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The following paper explores a model of ethics that is stratified based on several factors.  There are many reasons why it is necessary to approach ethics in such a hierarchical fashion.  Many of the justifications of these reasons will be presented in an effort to show the importance of bringing this topic to greater awareness.

THE UNITED PARTY OF VIRTUE

Benjamin Franklin recounts in his autobiography his efforts at achieving moral perfection.  Is this something that is achievable?  Well, Ben certainly made a valiant effort at attaining such a lofty goal.  His method of undertaking such a task was rather simple.  He began by ranking thirteen virtues in an order, which by achieving the first would facilitate achieving the next.  Next, he created a diary for recording his progress.  Then, it was a matter of self-awareness.  Ben made progress through his course, and soon he began to become quite the virtuous man.

There was, however, an unexpected result from his morally perfect lifestyle – people didn’t like him as much.  The fact of the matter is that people tend to resent those that are too good.  This is not to say that Ben didn’t find great benefit it his efforts.  On the contrary, he continued throughout his life to be more self-aware of these virtues in himself and others.  He also commented that when times were busy for him in business, travel, or government, that he was more distracted from his self-awareness and tended to let his diary entries slip.  He was not being any less virtuous; he was just less cognizant of it.

But, really, Ben’s reason for undertaking such a project – his motivation – is what I want to talk about.  Virtues and vices can be listed in numerous ways and in numerous moral codes, but they are useless without a motivation to practice them.  Let’s look at Ben’s motivation.  His grander project was to construct what he called “The United Party of Virtue”.  Here is an outline of his logic for this:

  1. Historically, parties affect the greatest change in the world.
  2. The view of any party is its current general interest.
  3. The different views of all of the parties give rise to confusion.
  4. Even though the party is united under a common interest, the individual members of the party each have their own, private interests.
  5. Once a party achieves its overall goal, each member becomes intent on achieving their own, private interest. This causes more confusion and the party breaks up into divisions, factions, and maybe even another party is formed.
  6. Very few of the members of a party place the interests of their party or of their country higher in importance than their own, personal interest. It just so happens that in many circumstances the interests of the members happens to serve similar interests of the party or of their country.
  7. Even fewer place the interests of mankind higher.
  8. By forming the virtuous and good people of all nations into a United Party of Virtue that is governed by suitable good and wise rules, the interests of mankind will be served. The members of such a party are much more likely to follow the rules set forth than the average person is likely to follow common laws.
  9. Any attempt to create a United Party of Virtue can’t fail if executed in the right manner.

It would seem that Ben had already created a forerunner of Rule Utilitarianism!  If you’re not familiar with this form of ethics then that’s O.K., I’m going to explain it in more detail later on.  The point is that Benjamin Franklin, in 1731, was already trying to create a grassroots movement that would be sort of like the United Nations, but its focus would be more on ensuring that the nations of the world serve the interests of mankind in an ethical way.

One objection to this might be that this party would be an elitist group.  It might seem like this on the surface but there is one major thing to consider.  The focus of the party is on the interests of mankind.  The party’s interest is to the benefit of everyone’s interests.

We talked about Ben’s motivation to become a virtuous man, but let’s go now into what motivates people to do…well, anything and everything.

MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

Abraham Maslow developed his Hierarchy of Needs over 50 years ago and it is still an often cited and well-accepted model of human motivation.  The Hierarchy is commonly depicted as a pyramid with the more basic, important, and immediately satisfiable needs being at the base of the pyramid.  The levels of needs from the bottom (most basic) to the top are:

  1. Physiological Needs – hunger, thirst, homeostasis
  2. Safety Needs – security, shelter, health
  3. Love Needs – affection, belongingness, group involvement
  4. Esteem Needs – self-respect, achievement, prestige
  5. Self-Actualization – self-fulfillment, life’s passion, achieving one’s potential

My aim is not to go into detail about each level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but to address some common misunderstandings of the hierarchy as well as discuss an extension of the hierarchy.

It is strange to me that many who are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy criticize it for reasons that Maslow himself addressed in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation.  One such criticism is that needs don’t necessarily have to be met 100% before the next higher need becomes a motivator for satiation.  Maslow addressed this by stating that needs don’t have to be met in a “step-wise, all-or-none” fashion.  So it is not like all physiological needs have to be met to 100% capacity and then, suddenly, all behavior focuses on safety needs.  Higher needs emerge gradually as a relatively high degree of need satisfaction occurs at the lower level.

Motivations can be traced back to needs even when the motivation may be viewed as a want or desire.  Let’s say you are hungry.  You need to satisfy your hunger but you want to eat at a restaurant with a health rating of 95 or better.  This is really a safety need because you understand that eating at restaurants with low health ratings means an increased risk of eating food that can cause illness.

Maslow’s theory has also been criticized for being too egocentric.  Much of human motivation is concerned with our interpersonal relationships.  This is one of the main areas I would like to focus on in regards to ethics.  For now, let me just say that it is quite easy to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to other people.  We are not only concerned with our own needs satisfaction but also with the satisfaction of others’ needs.

VROOM’S EXPECTANCY THEORY

In his book entitled Work and Motivation, Victor Vroom put forth his formula of expectancy.  This formula basically states that a person is motivated to act on the satisfaction of a need only if, in the end, it will result it a pay-off to the person.  And although Vroom was referring to work environments, we can apply the formula to any goal-oriented motivation.  Here is the formula:

Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence

Expectancy refers to the individual’s perceived probability that the need will be successfully met.  Instrumentality refers to the reward gained should the goal be met.  And, finally, Valence refers to how the reward will be of value to the person.

This formula is good because it introduces a probability factor into goal achievement.  I would also like to draw attention to the last element – valence.  This concept of value or what is of interest to the individual is what I would like to address in regards to ethics.

CATEGORIZING MOTIVATION

When we use the term “motivation”, what exactly do we mean?  And are needs the only motivators in humans?  Motivation is a state or condition that activates behavior.  Sources for motivation can either be external to the person or internal to the person.  Usually we refer to motivation causing goal-directed behavior, but this isn’t always the case.  There also exist expressive and autonomous behaviors that aren’t goal-directed.  These behaviors aren’t mutually exclusive, however.  A single behavior may have elements of all three.  But, for our purposes, we want to address the goal-oriented motivations. Motivations can be further categorized into physical, mental, and spiritual motivators.  And we can also assign classifications of whether the motivation is positive or negative.

Needs and motivations are really just means to an end though.  Now we must ask ourselves, what is the end(s) that they are a means to?  What is the state that we need to achieve or are motivated to achieve?  To answer this adequately, we must dive into the subject of ethics.  For it is the merger of Motivation Theory with Ethics that we gain a better understanding of how a moral code should be constructed.  The reason why this is so is because it just so happens that the things we tend to call virtues, unalienable rights, and proper social conduct are also the things which facilitate need satisfaction.   Once again I turn to Maslow’s A Theory of Human Motivation.  Maslow list such conditions as freedom of speech, freedom to act so long as others are not harmed, freedom of expression, freedom to seek information, freedom to defend one’s self, justice, fairness, honesty, and orderliness in the group as facilitators of the satisfaction of our needs.

THE ARGUMENT FOR UTILITARIANSIM

The basic doctrine of Utilitarianism as formed by Jeremy Bentham is more or less Hedonistic in scope.  It is John Stuart Mills who took this version of Bentham’s and created the modern formulation.  In his work entitled Utilitarianism Mills states the famous Utilitarian maxim:

Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.

Here we have the ends that motivations are a means to stated as “good”.  Other words that are sometimes equated with “good” in this context are “pleasure” and “happiness”.  Earlier I said that I wanted to take Vroom’s idea of valence and apply it to ethics.  This idea is of value or interest to an individual being the end that the means seeks.  Let’s see if we can equate “good” to “valuable” in order to determine if there is a correlation between Motivation Theory and Ethics here as well.  We can try and restate the Utilitarian maxim as:

Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest value for the greatest number

We can define “value” by dividing it into two sets of two categories.  The first set is a distinction between qualitative and quantitative value.  The second set is a distinction between intrinsic and instrumental value.  Something can be instrumentally valuable in acquiring something else that has intrinsic value, e.g. money is instrumentally valuable in buying food.  But, is food intrinsically or instrumentally valuable?  We could say that food is instrumentally valuable in satisfying our hunger and that a satisfied need is what is intrinsically valuable.  Why?  Because when the need is satisfied we are content, happy, or simply no longer in need.

This tracing of value back to happiness or pleasure does have problems.  The Hedonistic view is that pleasure is what is intrinsically good.  But what if what makes one person happy has the effect of causing harm or pain to others?  So there is usually the caveat added onto the Hedonistic view that says “as long as it doesn’t cause others displeasure”.  But this undermines Hedonism.  Is it truly all about personal pleasure if you have to add caveats that could potentially lessen your pleasure?  No, it would seem that Hedonism is flawed.  Ultimately it is not all about pleasure – or even happiness.  The value equation makes a distinction between the quality and quantity of the pleasures.  Many quality pleasures can make you happy.  And many happy times can make a happy life.  A person tends to find value in many quality experiences that create a happy or good life.  So it is not just a fleeting pleasure which has intrinsic value, it is a happy life.

Aristotle called this state of having a well-lived, happy life eudaimonia.  A person who has eudaimonia is a person who is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Not only are they concerned with passing pleasures, but also they seek quality happiness, are concerned with the well being of their fellow men, and seek self-fulfillment as well as want to contribute to a better society.

It is at this point that the traditional dispute between the two schools of Consequentialism diverges.  Utilitarianism falls under the ethics of Consequentialism.  The focus of Consequentialism is on the consequences of an action.  The question of whether lying is wrong or not is answered by the Consequentialists as “it depends”.  In most situations lying is wrong but there are situations where lying will produce less problems than if you told the truth.  We’ll come back to this issue later, though.

The two main schools of Consequentialism are Egoism and Utilitarianism.  The Egoists would say that it is a person’s life that has intrinsic value and each person is encouraged to seek their own happiness.  The Utilitarianists would say that a person’s life is only instrumentally valuable as a means to a thriving society.  It is a healthy society that has intrinsic value.  If the Egoist view reeks of Hedonism to you then that is because you’re right.  But the Utilitarian view suffers from one major flaw itself.  That flaw is the problem of justice.

The problem of justice as it relates to Utilitarianism says that there could be situations when individual lives could be sacrificed for the greater good of multiple people’s eudaimonia.  To remedy this we would have to add a caveat similar to the one we added to Hedonism.  Wouldn’t this undermine Utilitarianism also?  Not really because Utilitarianism has a scope that is ever widening.  Egoism’s scope is restricted to only individuals.  You can’t condone a view that says to everyone to maximize your individual pleasure regardless of everyone else and then tack on the caveat about ignoring part of the original view.  Utilitarianism’s view states that other people’s eudaimonia is of value right off the bat.  I will address the rationale for the reformulated Utilitarian view next.

First I would like to address the ever-widening scope of Utilitarianism.  Where does the scope end?   Is a healthy and thriving society instrumentally good to a healthy and thriving ecosystem?  I would say that the scope of Utilitarianism goes all the way to universal proportions and ends at reality itself.  What has gone unsaid in our formulation of value is continued existence, or survival.  What is intrinsically valuable is a happy, healthy, continued existence.  Even the word “happy”, since it is such an emotionally charged word, could be replaced with “vibrant” or “positive”.

This is where the Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU) has quite a bit to say about the scope of the reality we all inhabit and how utility is at play across the entire spectrum of reality, from the quantum world to the upper limit of the unity of all things at the global level.

The CTMU specifies that reality self-creates in a discrete manner, from one micromoment in superposition with a vast array of the myriad other objects that reality has made manifest, with a utility function at play. We, as higher orders of telors, i.e.  inheritors of universal self-creative freedom, mirror both the global and quantum levels of reality in that meta-utility is preserved across all levels.

At the quantum level telic feedback is at play. This equates to the “collapse of the wave function” as reality models a multiplicity of potential future states and somehow selects the actual outcome as telors perceive and interpret their reality. The CTMU describes telic feedback as generalized utility in which reality selects from possible future states in order to maximize itself.

At the global level, telic feedback is brought together in Multiplex Unity (MU). This, again, describes reality in terms of utility and a connection that contains feedback. MU is the answer to the question of how come we all perceive the one reality out of so many observers? This question and the nature of MU has quite a bit of bearing on the ethics of numerous telors coexisting within a unitary reality.

It would seem that the CTMU subsumes Rule Utilitarianism by giving it a more comprehensive model within which to reside. It also explicates the relationship between people (in the most general sense) and the reality in which they infocognitively adhere. A reality that evolves coupled to utility.

In this regard, the CTMU has a meta-Darwinian component. The reality that we share in our “collective solipsism” evolves through self-replication and self-selection holologically. And, thus, we also must maximize utility for our shared existence.

One other thing that should be noted is that something can be both instrumentally and intrinsically valuable.  A person’s eudaimonia is intrinsically valuable to that person and instrumentally valuable to a vibrant society.  A vibrant society is intrinsically valuable to the human race and instrumentally valuable to the Earth’s ecosystem.

THE PROBLEM OF JUSTICE AND RULE UTILITARIANISM

Deontological Theories of Ethics are concerned with duty.  Usually these duties are formalized in rules or laws that, if followed, would create a better person or society.  The most famous advocate of this view was Immanuel Kant.  His Categorical Imperative states:

Act only on that maxim which you can will to become a universal law.

This sounds great on the surface but there are two major flaws.  The first flaw is in deciding who makes the laws and how do we know that the laws that are decided on truly are beneficial to everyone.  To answer this we have to justify the laws agreed upon by using the consequences of the actions.  This places Deontological arguments right back in the realm of Consequentialism.  The second problem was addressed earlier in regards to lying.  The outcome of one situation might yield a worse ethical problem than the original one.  Outcomes cannot be sacrificed.

The Categorical Imperative does solve Utilitarianism’s problem of justice though.  It does this because a society cannot be vibrant without guaranteeing the need facilitators we spoke of earlier by making them codes, laws, and rights.  This type of Utilitarianism is called Rule Utilitarianism.

Rule Utilitarianism isn’t just a caveat tacked onto Utilitarianism either.  It points out that what might at first appear as a contradiction to Utilitarianism is in fact a higher Utilitarian ideal.  If one individual’s right to life were sacrificed in order to save ten other people, it would appear like Utilitarian values were upheld.  But if we lived in a society where your right to life was in constant jeopardy of being sacrificed any time society deemed it necessary, it would have the effect of eroding society’s value of life.  The greater value is in having a society where the individual’s right to life is respected.

KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

Just as the satiation of needs follows a hierarchical framework, so does the progression in morality and ethics.  A person can’t immediately embrace Rule Utilitarianism if they are not at the appropriate level of development.  We now turn to the work of Lawrence Kohlberg and his stages of moral development as presented in Essays in Moral Development (Vol. 1).

Kohlberg’s basic premise is that people develop in their ethical outlook in stages.  This is very similar to the manner in which people progress in Maslow’s Hierarchy as needs are satisfied.  Kohlberg divided this progression into 3 levels with 2 stages in each level.  They are:

Level 1 – Pre-Conventional

  1. Obedience and Punishment
  2. Individualism, Instrumentalism, and Exchange

Level 2 – Conventional

  1. Interpersonal Concordance
  2. Law and Order

Level 3 – Post-Conventional

  1. Social Contract
  2. Universal Ethical Principles

Stage 1 corresponds to the “threat of punishment/promise of reward” application of motivation to comply with moral action.  Stage 2 is the stage where a person is concerned solely with actions that are in their own best interest – other people’s interests are completely disregarded unless the other’s interests help to serve one’s own interests.  At Level 2 we see the outlook of the majority of society represented.  Stage 3 is the stage where a person’s actions are largely aimed at acceptance and social norms.  At Stage 4 people understand that laws, rules, customs, and courtesies serve to create a just and equal society.  At Level 3 we see the Utilitarian traits emerge.  At Stage 5 people understand that laws, rules, and customs aren’t just to create an egalitarian society, but they serve the greater purpose of promoting the greatest good to the greatest number of people.  And finally, at Stage 6 we arrive at the view that Maslow’s need facilitators and the principles of the Utilitarian maxim of the greatest value for the greatest number should be regarded as a Categorical Imperative.

You will notice that in both Maslow’s model and Kohlberg’s model there is a progression from a very egocentric, selfish view that evolves into an awareness of, and need to “fit-in-with”, others.  Eventually one would expect a person who is at the Self-Actualization level of needs satisfaction to adopt a Post-Conventional moral outlook.  Once this happens there is a larger degree of altruism rather than a larger degree of egoism, which is displayed lower in the hierarchy.  And it is this altruistic concern that is characterized in Utilitarianism.  The degree to which this concern manifests in a person depends on many factors.  Next I would like to present the CTMU formulation of how this concern for other people’s interests exists in Hierarchical Ethics.

THE DISTRIBUTED SELF

Because the CTMU explicates our relationship to both lower and higher orders of a mutual existence, a person has a stronger alliance with those who share their interests and less of a concern with those who don’t share similar interests with them. Abstractly, we can all pretty much agree that global thriving is a necessary interest if we are to continue to exist ourselves. In this way, our “self” is connected in many ways to many things and we might understand this connection in numerous expressions and at numerous levels of comprehension.

When I use the term “interests” I am referring to the connotations explained earlier in Maslow’s “needs”, Vroom’s “valence”, and Utilitarian’s “value”.  And depending on the individual’s current level of moral development and needs satisfaction, their interests can run the entire gamut of the hierarchical spectrum.

The term “alliance” refers to the relationship in which people’s interests are in alliance, or related by common ground.  People will tend to have a greater concern for others if they share an alliance of interests.  People will also have a greater concern for another person’s needs, even if their interests aren’t necessarily in alliance, if they share a close relationship.  This relationship can manifest itself in ever expanding relationships, e.g. immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, community, city, county, state, region, country, etc. (of course my example is based on the United States of America’s terminology.  Even though terms may change, the concept doesn’t.).  Thus, people aren’t only concerned with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it applies to them, but also how it applies to others.

This might seem like common sense but it really needs to be stated in these terms and in this model of Hierarchical Ethics because it is very important to understand that, ultimately, all of our interests converge.  This convergence isn’t frequently respected because the majority of people are stifled in their eudaimonia at lower levels in the hierarchy in trying to satisfy lower needs and exhibiting lower stages of moral development.  But it is worth noting that at the upper levels of the hierarchy, a self-actualized person would be expected to think about global issues affecting the entire planet and on outward to the limits of the real universe.  Issues such as Global Warming, world poverty, world hunger, environmental conservation, global energy consumption, overpopulation, wild life conservation, etc. are issues that concern not only a self-actualized person, but a flourishing society of self-actualized people.

VIRTUE ETHICS

Since we have discussed Deontological Ethics and Consequentialism, we should round out our discussion with the third school of ethics – Value Ethics.  Deontological Ethics is concerned with the actions of people.  Consequentialism is concerned with the outcomes or goals of those actions.  Virtue Ethics is concerned with adopting certain virtuous behaviors and the motivation (as we have already discussed) to adopt virtues that society deems as valuable.  Many philosophers of ethics will quibble over which is the better ethical school to adopt, but it’s actually better to understand that all three are intertwined and must be merged into a hierarchical framework with ethical motives driving virtuous behavior with the goal to be a vibrant outcome that respects the individual and benefits society and ultimately reality at large.

CONCLUSION

Based on this synthesis of ideas, a hierarchical approach to ethics emerges based on the motivating factors of the individual, their level of moral development, and their relationship to other individual’s interests and needs.  From this we can determine that it is unrealistic to expect all people to understand, much less adopt, a higher ethical value if they are trying to meet lower level needs or not of the appropriate moral maturity.

Another and far more important conclusion to be drawn from available models of motivation and ethics is that this hierarchical approach does point the way to the highest ideal of ethics, morality, and virtue.  Namely, it is that the values of Rule Utilitarianism as understood within the CTMU – embodied in a vibrant, healthy existence that contribute to the self-actualization of reality and all of its constituent parts – should be treated as sacred and as inviolate as the laws of nature itself.  Since value should be maximized to the fullest possible extent, there is implied a respect and caring for, not only of other people, but also of other creatures, the environment, and ultimately the world.

Just how many of us are self-actualized enough to be at the upper tier of the hierarchy?  Kohlberg noted himself that very few of our species resides in the Post-Conventional level.  And this brings us full circle to Ben Franklin’s ideal of a United Party of Virtue.  We cannot expect those who wield the power of controlling the future of mankind – our world leaders – to go on without answering to the highest of moral virtues and expect our planet to emerge unscathed.  For this very reason we can imagine the great benefits to our planet and all its inhabitants if the world governments adopted a council of moral elders as envisioned by Benjamin Franklin with a comprehensive understanding of the correct model of reality as envisioned by Christopher Langan.  For such a party to hold any real power it would have to either be an extension of the government with appropriate balancing functionality (such as veto power) or be composed of a sufficiently representative body of powerful officials (but this runs the risk of letting personal interests interfere in public interests).

For such a thing to be instituted on a global scale might be a pipe dream.  A realistic approach is a grassroots movement conducted, not by emotional zealots, but by rational, freethinking, intelligent people.  There are many ideal candidates that fit the bill.   Let’s just hope, for the sake of mankind, that we will meet Ben Franklin’s challenge and eventually create a United Party of Virtue before it is too late.

SOURCES

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin
  • A Theory of Human Motivation, Abraham Maslow
  • Work and Motivation, Victor Vroom
  • Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mills
  • Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
  • The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe: A New Kind of Reality Theory, Christopher Langan
  • Essays in Moral Development (Vol. 1), Lawrence Kohlberg

Abstract: In the CTMU free will is stratified across a Trialic Metaformal Language of reality: 1) Globally (at the universal level) the universe self-generates and self-configures preserving its internal logic in a self-deterministic evolution, 2) Fundamentally (sub-atomically) the universe self-selects from ontic potential in an act of ongoing actualization, and 3) Systemically (above the sub-atomic level) the universe generates perceiving entities that have volition and may choose to advance the utility of existence or to thwart global utility.

The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU) stands as the most comprehensive achievement of reality modeling in the history of logic. What the theory yields in terms of the nature of the reality we are embedded within spans numerous domains such as Science, Philosophy, Mathematics, Psychology, and Religion, just to name some of the larger fields of human epistemology.[1]

It’s instructive to see what the CTMU says with regards to the issue of free will, but what exactly is meant by the term free will? The definition presented by Peter van Inwagen in his paper “How to Think about the Problem of Free Will” presents free will as defined in two temporal directions of past and future as:

“The free-will thesis is the thesis that we are sometimes in the following position with respect to a contemplated future act: we simultaneously have both the following abilities: the ability to perform that act and the ability to refrain from performing that act. (This entails that we have been in the following position: for something we did do, we were at some point prior to our doing it able to refrain from doing it, able not to do it.)”[2]

This follows the putative definition. Another, less philosophically-laden term, is volition – the faculty or power to freely choose using one’s will.

In discussing human volition, a dichotomy has somehow overshadowed the discussion and has chronically persisted until the CTMU came along and shattered the old edifice of Determinism/Indeterminism. Determinism represents the idea that the universe’s future, and thus also inheritable to humans, is fully determined and predictable given sufficient knowledge of any current state. If every particle were fully described as to state, position, and trajectory coupled with a full understanding of the laws of nature, then, like billiard balls careening about a pool table, we could know the full future of the system. Because human cognition is, conveniently in this case, also a part of reality, humans would lack free will in a deterministic universe.

Opposed to this idea is the concept of Indeterminism, which equates to either an unknowable or, more accurately, a random unfolding of the universe unbeholden to laws. This view has been the bane of scientific progress and was what Einstein had in mind when he famously quipped that “God does not play dice with the universe”.

As it turns out, the CTMU gives us a third option that fully explains our reality and that is Self-Determinism. But how does the universe achieve this seemingly intractable problem of being neither Deterministic nor Indeterministic?

The answer lies in the CTMU’s Trialic Metaformal Language. This defines the three levels of identity of the universe. Residing at the primary or macroscopic level is the Global Operator Descriptor (G.O.D.). This is the most general, global level of reality. At this level the G.O.D. self-generates from pure potential the actualized information of reality. This process is an evolutionary process using its inner defined teleology wherein all parts of the whole are in informational contact with every level of reality.

The secondary or mesoscopic level are telors. For our purposes, these are human beings. Telors are the inheritors of global teleology and provide a key role in conveying meaning to the G.O.D. level coupled with the ability to perceptively bring into actualization the universe.

Finally, the tertiary or microscopic level is the realm of the quantum. While Quantum Mechanics (QM) is plagued with ontological problems concerning the nature of determinacy, indeterminacy, and the nature of perception upon reality, the CTMU’s Quantum Metamechanics (QMM) achieves a resolution unparalleled.[3]

Macroscopic: 1) Globally (at the universal level) the universe self-generates and self-configures preserving its internal logic in a self-deterministic evolution.

In order for an agent to have a free choice the universe must also be open-ended and free. In a fully determined, Laplacian universe there is only one unique future that may occur. If determinism held, then nothing could be said to ever have real freedom because only one future is realizable. There have been many futile attempts to salvage free will in a fully deterministic universe. One example is Compatibilism. One of the most common arguments for Compatibilism is that God’s knowledge of the future doesn’t interfere with what free choices a person makes at the time of choice. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t stand up to logic. Either God’s knowledge isn’t complete if a person could choose differently, or our supposedly free choices must conform to God’s certain knowledge. For this reason Compatibilists cannot justify free will when ontological determinism presents no chance of freedom by positing only one, single future.

In positing an open-ended and free future, the CTMU doesn’t posit randomness or indeterminacy, but a state of pure potential called Unbound Telesis (UBT). UBT is a primordial realm of potential that is free of informational constraint. It is pure, free potential from which the universe actualizes by constraining the existence parameters of the language of reality to include the reflexive grammar by which it writes and reads itself. Reality accomplishes this feat by generating a Self-Configuring Self-Processing Language (SCSPL) that is a reflexive, intrinsic language that generates infocognition. The nature of infocognition is a dual aspect monism, which means that it is a monic medium that gives rise to a duality of cognizable information. Essentially, this means that reality not only is self-generating and self-transducing, but also self-recognizing.

So it would seem that God doesn’t know or perceive a unique future thus stripping away freedom before its constituent telors even have a chance to make a free choice. Instead, God uses a utility function to freely evolve from ontic potential.

To illustrate how perception alone can remove freedom, let’s begin with a thought experiment:

Suppose you were to create a simple mechanism that required a mobile object (such as a wind-up toy) to navigate from one side of a container to the other side. There are a series of paths and each time the mobile object arrived at a fork in the path, a “random” choice was made (e.g. a dice roll) as to which path to take. The result is that the mobile object can arrive at any number of exits from the container, which is “freely” chosen (in the sense that you aren’t dictating the choices to the mobile object).

Simple enough, right? Now let’s add an interesting twist to the scenario. Let’s suppose you are able to start the process, then jump in a time machine and go forward in time to see where the object will exit, and then return back in time to watch as the object goes about “randomly” choosing the course that leads to the outcome you now know it will take. Does the object still freely choose? Does your knowledge of the outcome affect anything?

It would seem that the act of observing a system actualizes its history and thus strips the freedom from it by destroying its potential or freedom. Molinists, for example, fail to see how the very act of God observing the future of the system strips it of its freedom. This is just another way of shifting ontological determinism from the universe to God’s mind. How does freedom remain intact if we are never allowed to deviate from the one unique determined universe in God’s mind. Another way to look at it is to say that before I ever had a chance to act or refrain from acting God knew what I would choose and I have no choice but to conform to God’s knowledge. The same holds for an atheistic view of a fully determined universe. If the laws of nature “know” what the future evolution of the universe will produce (meaning only one unique future) then how can we have any true freedom to deviate?

One might ask why is it necessary for reality to confer free will upon its internal telors? Another way of asking this is why does God need to generate perceiving beings with volition? One reason is to provide meaning. Since reality is a self-contained entity where anything outside of itself is by definition unreal, it would be an unperceived, and thus meaningless, entity if it couldn’t somehow generate its own meaning internally. To do this, reality must self-generate telors who can be classified as “self-excited circuits” participating in the universe’s observation of itself.

Another reason is that perception by telors provides generativity to reality itself at the quantum level by facilitating the actualization process. We’ll return to just how this happens in part 2.

To summarize, reality at the G.O.D. level possess free will by generating SCSPL content from UBT through global self-determinism.

Microscopic: 2) Fundamentally (sub-atomically) the universe self-selects from ontic potential in an act of ongoing actualization.

There are numerous schools of interpretation of QM. Many physicists and philosophers refuse to believe that the universe is fundamentally indeterminate and thus hold out hope that we will eventually fill in the holes of QM and find the missing mechanisms that return our universe to a fully deterministic, clockwork universe. As discussed earlier, this erroneous dichotomy means that this just hasn’t happened yet. The most widely held model since the dawn of QM is the Copenhagen Interpretation. Anton Zeilinger succinctly states:

When investigating various interpretations of quantum mechanics one notices that each interpretation contains an element which escapes a complete and full description. This element is always associated with the stochasticity of the individual event in the quantum measurement process. It appears that the implications of this limit to any description of the world has not been sufficiently appreciated with notable exceptions of, for example, Heisenberg, Pauli and Wheeler. If we assume that a deeper foundation of quantum mechanics is possible, the question arises which features such a philosophical foundation might have. It is suggested that the objective randomness of the individual quantum event is a necessity of a description of the world in view of the significant influence the observer in quantum mechanics has. It is also suggested that the austerity of the Copenhagen interpretation should serve as a guiding principle in a search for deeper understanding.“[4]

Unfortunately, the Copenhagen Interpretation essentially posits that the most that can be said for reality at the quantum level is that it is unknowable until it is observed or measured. There are numerous problems plaguing the field of Quantum Mechanics and they all relate to the ontological nature of reality at the quantum level and the futile attempt to fully describe it divorced from cognition.

Briefly, these problems are the Measurement Problem, Wave/Particle Duality, Complementarity, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. While the brunt of the scientific community frustratingly attempts to keep the abstract, mental realm of reality divorced from the physical world, they vainly grope towards a model of reality that can never be realized.

In the CTMU the modeling of the quantum world is accomplished by describing causality as self-deterministic and the process of self-creation as being logically sound and teleological. The process is called Telic Recursion and it generatively selects maximal utility from free potential (UBT). In the CTMU the “collapse of the wave function” is explained as reality self-generating the requisite laws themselves. But laws do not exist in isolation. They are defined in relation to the objects and attributes on which they act. In like manner, objects and attributes don’t exist in isolation, either. They are defined on the logic of their structures and transformations to which they are beholden. When speaking of quantum action, where this information is primordial, or pre-informational, the infocognitive objects of reality are generated from Telesis through the process of Telic Recursion.

Telic Recursion occurs at the global and local levels of reality. In the primary stage, universal laws are refined given the distribution of matter and energy. The secondary or local stage is where agent-level telors cognitively participate in the process of telic recursion by providing a meaningful actualization of reality. Because the two processes occur simultaneously, it can be said that local telors create reality from global utility.

Agent-level telors inherit from the G.O.D. global level of reality the ontological freedom to create reality. Thus, free will is distributed from the global level to the local level via the quantum process of Telic Recursion. This, together with other CTMU properties yields the Telic Principle which states that the universe self-configures from undifferentiated ontological potential (Telesis).

Mesoscopic: 3) Systemically (above the sub-atomic level) the universe generates perceiving entities that have volition and may choose to advance the utility of existence or to thwart global utility.

Many philosophers who attempt to tackle the free will problem think it is necessary to incorporate indeterminism into the actual thought process of humans at some level. This is done as an opposite reaction to determinism’s damnation of universal freedom in the Laplacian sense. Bob Doyle, on his Information Philosopher website, states that “Chance exists. If our actions are caused by chance, we lack control. We cannot call that free will because we could not be held morally responsible for random actions.”[5] But at what level does indeterminism need to reside? What exactly is this randomness contributing to our free will? Doyle’s answer is that quantum foam causes noise, as in the Communication Theoretical sense, that gives rise to random thoughts. These random thoughts serve to break the causal chain. This is a weak argument and completely misses the mark in proving that free will exists. The reason is because we typically focus our thoughts on various approaches and outcomes to situations we are contemplating when trying to decide on a course of action. Rarely would we ascribe our rationale to choosing a course of action to random thoughts.

Physicists will readily tell you that at our macro level of reality, Newtonian physics is good enough for most every action we observe or propose to predict. In the non-CTMU view, the randomness of the QM world stabilizes and for all practical purposes, the universe at the macro level is deterministic. Many scientists and philosophers balk at the Fine-Tuning Argument because of its tautological nature, but the truth is that the universe does appear to operate within very narrow parameters that allow systems to stabilize and evolve along seemingly deterministic lines.

Systems (to include our brains) must operate in a practically determined fashion for there to be logical coherence to the universe. If randomness truly were to reside at the systemic level then we would be left with seemingly random causes operating throughout nature. So how is it then that humans can have free will in such a “seemingly deterministic” universe? The answer isn’t in random quantum foam causing micro-noise. The answer, once again, is in self-determinism.

Self-determinism is defined as “a doctrine that the actions of a self are determined by itself”.[6] Many thinkers on the topic of self-determinism seem to think that it is necessary to either explain how self-determinism breaks the causal chain or else initiates the causal chain altogether. Neither case is necessary for free will to exist in teleological agents. Instead, self-determinism is necessary for agents to form the necessary systems that lead to more sophisticated, self-referential brains.

The importance is in showing that the future of the universe is truly one of UBT and is thus freely open. Otherwise, determinism would hold completely and the universe would be a giant determined algorithm that is churning out set results. The end state would be front-loaded. Instead, we can say that the universe is truly evolving as it actualizes and there is always a degree of probability associated with the outcomes.

But first, let’s describe some of the features necessary to call an agent self-determined. When pinpointing just exactly the dividing line between an agent that possesses free will (such as a human) and an agent that is said to exhibit goal-seeking behavior but not possess volition (such as a thermostat or heat seeking missile) we soon realize that lines can be hard to demarcate. One area of research that is diligently trying to explicate these differences is the field of Artificial Intelligence. How does one go about programming a computer to simulate the human brain and break out of the Halting Problem?

In a very insightful paper by George Chadderdon entitled “Assessing Machine Volition: An Ordinal Scale for Rating Artificial and Natural Systems”[7] we find a list of attributes that serve to identify agents that possess free will: autonomous behavior, sensory organs, feedback and feedforward loops, memory, teleology (goals, intentions, & desires), motion (animacy), parallel-processing/distributed processing, and self-awareness/self-reflection.

Chadderdon goes on to present an ordinal scale similar to a Turing Test that helps to determine at what level does a natural or artificial system fall on the volitional scale. A synopsis of this scale follows:

Level 0 – Non-Volitional Systems

Level 0.0      Inanimate Object                      rocks, utensils, etc.

Level 0.1      Schizoid Automata                    clocks, wind-up dolls, etc.

Level 0.2      Reactive Automata                    vehicle engines, running motors, etc.

Level 1 – Instinct-Driven Automata

Level 1.0      Value-Driven Automata             thermostats, heat-seeking missiles

Level 1.1      Modal Value-Driven Automata  single-celled organisms, insects, etc.

Level 2 – Contained Self Organism

Level 2.0      Pavlovian Organisms                 simple reactive animals that can learn preferences

Level 2.1      Ideational Organisms                animals that can hold items in memory for task behaviors

Level 2.2      Recollective Organisms             animals that remember semantic relationships or gestalt events

Level 2.3      Deliberative Organisms             animals that navigate complex spaces

Level 3 – Extended Self Organisms

Level 3.0      Social Organisms                       rats, dogs, cats, horses, etc.

Level 3.1      Manipulative Organisms            monkeys and apes

Level 3.2      Symbolic Organisms                  primitive humans

Level 3.3      Cultural Organisms                    modern humans

We see that following an evolutionary progression along the scale gives more and more sophistication in regards to teleology and self-determinism. It’s at the Level 2 scale that we see free will beginning to emerge in self-contained systems. At the highest level we encounter what Charles Campbell argued in 1938 as being the truest form of free will: moral temptation. In a moral dilemma we find the Cultural Organism’s character grappling with the agent’s moral ideal.[8]

Many thinkers on the subject focus on just how an agent breaks the cause-effect chain. But how exactly is the causal chain broken so that humans can be said to possess free will? One attempt to explain this comes from Tim Manning, a Business Architect form the United Kingdom, who explains along these lines of thinking:

“When considering what causes a particular effect, we tend to generate a list of factors and weight these in terms of importance.  This has been referred to as laundry list thinking. This assumes a linear relationship between cause and effect, with each factor having a fixed relative importance.  If only life was that simple.  Unfortunately, causes are more often dynamic, rather than static.  The relative importance of any one factor may change over time, depending on the feedback loops that exist.  It is better to think in terms of influencing factors, rather than causes.  This is an important point to remember next time you find yourself using an Ishikawa or fishbone diagram, as part of a quality improvement initiative.”[9]

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to break the chain. It might confound the trail but one could trace the loops and segues back to prior causes outside of the feedback loop. Cause and effect are necessary to lead up to a decision point. The looping back causes interesting effects that we typically think of as emergent behavior that raises the explanatory power out of mere reductionist explanations. David Deutsch makes this argument by using a copper atom in the nose of a statue of Churchill. A reduction of explanation to mere physics doesn’t capture the higher levels of explanation necessary to explain how that particular atom came to be in the statue.[10] In order to fully explain its presence one would need to invoke explanations of metallurgy, human art, human veneration of famous people and how those venerated people are sometimes memorialized in bronze statues. Similarly, as we progress up Chadderdon’s ordinal scale we behold levels of complexity magnify as we gain the ability to store information in memory, think about our own thoughts, and model the future.

The causal chain doesn’t need to be broken, it just requires that intention be introduced into the process during the chain at some point. Volition then becomes a part of the causal chain – this can be unconscious volition or conscious volition in higher states of awareness. Many would discount unconscious volition as something other than free will but the unconscious mind can be primed by conscious intentions.

Another volitional feature is our attempt to model and predict the truly unknown future. One trait that captures the essence of this is the concept of feedforward. Feedforward is a method of learning that emphasizes future goals, behaviors, or success by envisioning or modeling a potential future. To return for a moment to future UBT, we are trying to predict the future and make decisions on how we think we can affect the actualization of the universe, even if it’s just our small sphere of influence.

The CTMU’s Reality Principle states: The real universe contains all and only that which is real. The supertautological grounding of the model means that it is the only model of reality that explicates a comprehensive causal model of self-determinism across the full Trialic domains from the quantum level to systemic internal telors and all the way up to global reality.

[1] Langan, C. M. (2002). The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe: A New Kind of Reality Theory. Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design.

[2] Van Inwagen, Peter: “How to Think about the Problem of Free Will”, Journal of Ethics 12:327-341.

[3] Langan, C. M. (2019). Introduction to Quantum Metamechanics. Mega Foundation Press.

[4] Zeilinger, Anton: “On the Interpretation and Philosophical Foundation of Quantum Mechanics”, Vastakohtien todellisuus, Helsinki Press, 1996.

[5] Doyle, Bob: “The Information Philosopher” website, http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/standard_argument.html, retrieved 28 Aug 2020.

[6] Merriam-Webster; “definition of self-determinism”, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-determinism, retrieved 28 Aug 2020.

[7] Chadderdon, George; “Assessing Machine Volition: An Ordinal Scale for Rating Artificial and Natural Systems”, http://adb.sagepub.com/content/16/4/246.abstract?rss=1, retrieved 28 Aug 2020.

[8] Campbell, Charles; “In Defense of Free Will”, Inaugural Address, Glasgow University, 1938.

[9] Manning, Tim; “Design for Services”, http://design4services.com/concepts/systems-thinking/system-behaviour/, retrieved 28 Aug 2020.

[10] Deutsch, David; “The Fabric of Reality”, Penguin, 1997.

DISCLAIMER:  The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe was created and authored by Christopher Michael Langan.  What follows is my interpretation of his theory.

The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU) is what is called a Theory of Everything(TOE).  In the typical, scientific TOE, objective reality and observation are treated with priority while subjective reality and cognition are relegated to an inferior position.  But a true theory of everything should explain both the concrete and the abstract.  The CTMU is the first TOE that explains the relationship between the observer and what is observed.  The CTMU is not merely a theory but is an extension of how logic is employed to build models and theories.  In this sense, the CTMU is meta-logical because it explains how we construct theories through our cognition in order to explain objective reality.

In the field of Formal Logic a tautology is a statement whose truth-value is indisputable.  It is of the type:

1) A=A

or

2) All bachelors are single.

Because, by definition, a bachelor is a single man, statement 2 is necessarily true.  It is typically thought that a tautology lacks new information.  This is true so long as the scope that a tautology references is sufficiently small.  If a tautology’s scope is large enough, new and useful information can be gleaned from a tautological statement.  Good examples of this are the dictionary and the field of algebra whose usefulness goes without saying.

The CTMU uses the truth-value of a tautology and stretches the scope to the ultimate limit at the outset by making the foundation of the theory a tautological statement about reality itself. This tautological statement is called the Reality Principle and it says:

The real universe contains all and only that which is real.

So where is the new information?  Well, for starters, this makes any attempt at a theory of reality that incorporates external causation a logical dead-end.  In other words, the only logically valid explanation of our reality says that there is nothing outside of reality that can affect reality.  If there were anything external to reality that could affect reality then it would automatically become real and thus, be a part of reality.

This logical condition has far reaching ramifications for cosmogenesis.  In essence, it means that we can avoid an infinite regress of prior cause by positing that reality self-created and this would be the only logical explanation for cosmogenesis.

The CTMU goes on to show that any self-contained system or theory about said system must obey certain containment principles.  Namely, a self-contained TOE must meet the requirements that the theory is closed, comprehensive, and consistent.

The closure principle of the CTMU is called the Metaphysical Autology Principle (MAP).  In essence, MAP says that anything relevant to reality is generated by reality.  It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about explanations, descriptions, compositions, objects, laws, or cognitive categories – they all are created from within reality.

The Mind Equals Reality Principle (M=R) of the CTMU addresses the comprehensivity of reality.  In the traditional view of reality, mind and matter are separated by what has come to be known as Cartesian Dualism.  Unfortunately, much of the split between science and philosophy has arisen because of many years of Cartesian Dualism.  But both the subjective, mental world and the objective, material world are contained within reality.  The M=R Principle simply shows that the two sides of Cartesian Dualism reduce to a unitary relational medium.  In this way, reality is comprehensive enough to be both the abstract and concrete manifestations that mankind has divided into a dual aspect reality.

The principle in the CTMU that addresses consistency is called the Multiplex Unity Principle(MU).  The syntax of reality is ultimately a unitary informational medium that generates the multiple configurations that we experience.  The reason that we can reduce reality to a common medium is because of the coherence of reality to itself.  Anywhere that reality encounters reality, it recognizes itself.  The syntax of reality unifies in a topological and descriptive coincident existence.  From the topological perspective, syntax becomes state; and from the descriptive perspective, state becomes syntax.

The fact that a unitary relational medium gives rise to the various dual-natured aspects of reality means information can flow in both directions – from simplicity to complexity, and from complexity to simplicity (just as the unitary syntax of reality seemingly gives rise to Cartesian Dualism).  This type of feature of reality is called syndiffeonesis, which means a sameness relation expressed through difference.  An example would be short and tall, which are differences that are reducible to the sameness relation of height.  Another term that the CTMU uses to express this relationship is called dual-aspect monism.

By reducing reality to a common, syntactical medium it becomes quite obvious that reality behaves much like a language.  But, any language we look to within reality to express this is really a sub-language of the language of reality.  So, in essence, reality can be treated like a meta-language whose atomic make-up is cognizable information.  The CTMU calls this infocognition.  This meta-language possesses infocognition that form relations through nomological (both physical and logical laws) functions.  Since we have already established that reality is self-created and self-contained we can now introduce the next idea in the CTMU:  reality is a Self-Configuring, Self-Processing Language (SCSPL).

Since reality is an SCSPL that creates itself, writes itself, and reads itself along with the laws that govern its processing, the universe operates through self-determinacy.  This leaves the standard concepts of determinacy and indeterminacy as logical dead-ends when constructing a TOE.  Self-determinacy has far reaching consequences when it comes to teleology (the study of design or purpose in natural phenomena) and meaning.  Basically, the structure and meaning of reality are self-determined as it evolves.

The self-determinacy of reality suggests a feedback mechanism because reality must determine a new state-syntax transition by referencing other syntactical states.  This feedback mechanism is the teleological component of reality and it is called Telic Recursion.  In order to completely understand Telic Recursion it is very important to have a basic understanding of the quantum world.  I will not go into an explanation of quantum physics here; but I will say that Telic Recursion describes the quantum world in terms of reality actualizing through a self-selection of a utility function from many possible future states.  This process is what is happening when the quantum wave function collapses into an actualized observation of state.

The evolution of reality through Telic Recursion is logical in the sense that any state of reality that is actualized must have been selected through a logical pathway.  This logical pathway of actualization is called binding of logical constraints in Formal Logic.  If we were to remove the logical constraints of the binding of logic – reverse the telic evolution of reality – we would remove the actualized logical constraints of reality until we finally arrived at a point where there is a complete lack of logical bindings in reality.  What we are left with after conducting this thought experiment is what the CTMU calls Unbound Telesis (UBT).  Since reality actualizes from potential future states, UBT is pure potential rather than mere nothingness.

In cosmology there is a theory that says the universe came into existence from nothingness.  This is called cosmogenesis ex nihilo.  The CTMU replaces the nothingness of this model with UBT.  When logical binding occurs through Telic Recursion, that which is actualized becomes real and that which doesn’t meet the logical requirement of self-actualization becomes unreal.

This utility function of reality is how reality teleologically self-configures.  Much of our understanding of the quantum world is counterintuitive when looked at from the standard theories and models that try and explain reality.  These paradoxes disappear in the CTMU and are easily explained in terms of a reality that is in the process of self-actualization.

Another problem that the standard models have explaining is the expanding universe.  Given the Reality Principle we cannot logically propose that our universe is expanding into anything that doesn’t already qualify as a part of reality.  If there is nothing outside reality, then reality doesn’t exist in space.  On the contrary, space exists within reality.  There can be no metric for reality to be embedded in so it is illogical to suggest that our universe is expanding in any absolute sense.  This doesn’t deny the fact that our universe appears to be expanding from our internal perspective; but it is more logical to say that we are contracting within the universe.

Now, it must also be understood that our universe, actualizing through telic feedback, suggests that reality operates in an iterative fashion.  The continuity that we experience in our macro-world breaks down once we get below the Planck Length.  Causality and the continuity of space no longer hold in the micro-world.  The evolution of reality is broken and each new iteration is an actualization, through the feedback mechanism of Telic Recursion, of previous iterations.

When the concepts of the previous two paragraphs are combined into the CTMU’s model of cosmology we get a model that explains the universe, not as expanding, but a universe wherein the objects are, relatively speaking, contracting.  Both judgments are correct as far as appearances go, but logic prevents reality from expanding into an absolute metric not already implicated in reality.  In CTMU terms this is called conspansion and it is fully explained in the Universe as Self-Representational Entity (USRE) model of cosmology.

Basically, the universe evolves through a discrete re-scaling factor whose rate is distributed homogeneously throughout.  It is in the realm of quantum physics where this behavior appears discrete.  At the macroscopic level our world appears smooth and continuous.

Stating that reality’s utility function is aimed at self-actualization means that this utility is a generalized feature of reality.  Reality possesses this utility at both a global level and also at local levels.  Global utility is heritable by the localized entities of reality and becomes their local utility.  Telic Recursion is not only understood as an interplay of actualization and potential, but is also an interplay between constraint and freedom.  This is because potential is a lack of constraint and is therefore, freedom.

Reality configures itself in such a way that we are localized agents who have inherited this utility of telic freedom.  By granting us this freedom we have the ability to choose to either create positive utility or to create negative utility for the system we call reality.  This is the CTMU version of freewill.  Reality confers freewill to its localized agents who are in a position to use their freewill for positive or negative utility.

Sources:

The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe – A New Kind of Reality Theory, Christopher Michael Langan

Flash from Deep Space: Supernews on Supernovas, Christopher Michael Langan

Introduction to the CTMU, Christopher Michael Langan

On Absolute Truth and Knowledge, Christopher Michael Langan

Ymir’s Brain, Rain, and Logic

The Norse creation myth says that the world was created by Odin and his brothers from the slain body of the giant Ymir.  They used his blood for the lakes and oceans, his unbroken bones were used to form the mountains, his teeth and broken bones became the rocks and boulders, his hair became trees, his skull was hoisted by four dwarves and became the dome of the sky, and his brains became the clouds.

It may seem hard to believe that people actually accepted such a fanciful tale as truth but it was once the common belief among the Nordic race.  So, I thought up this little story on belief that revolves around the brains of Ymir as a little jumping off point to begin this article:

One day Ulfgar, Thorkil, and Snori were sitting on a hillside relaxing.  Thorkil said to Ulfgar and Snori, “I don’t believe that the clouds are really the brains of Ymir.  I think that the clouds are really water.”

With this, Ulfgar and Snori began laughing at Thorkil.  Snori said, “That’s impossible.  Water doesn’t float in the air.  If that were the case then the fjords would be in the sky.”

Thorkil continued, though, “The rain comes from the sky, so there must be water up there to begin with.”

Ulfgar and Snori thought about this and Ulfgar said, “Yes, but the rain doesn’t stay up there. It falls to the ground.  It never rises up there.”

Thorkil then explained further, “The other morning I was riding through the valley and it was foggy.  I noticed that the fog looked like a cloud from a distance but when I rode through it I could see about me a short way.”

Ulfgar snickered and retorted, “So?”

Thorkil continued, “Well, as I rode through the fog I became chilled because I got soaked to the bone by the time I emerged on the other side of the valley.”

Snori said, “Yes, everyone has experienced this but what does that have to do with the clouds?”

Thorkil said, “Let me finish. I began to think about where the fog goes when the sun comes up.  The fog seems to just sneak away but where does it really go?  So I sat on the hillside the rest of the morning and watched the fog.”

Snori was curious now.  He asked, “So, where did it sneak off to?”

Thorkil smiled and said, “It didn’t sneak off. It just slowly disappeared.  Don’t you see?  The fog goes into the sky so slow that you don’t even notice it.  The fog goes into the sky and becomes clouds.  When the clouds get thick with water they turn dark and then it rains back down.”

Ulfgar didn’t buy it, though.  “That is crap, Thorkil.  Snori, don’t believe his mad rantings.”

Thorkil replied, “I bet that going through a cloud would be just like going through the fog.”

Snori thought about all of what Thorkil had said and thought that Thorkil was right.  A couple of days later he asked Ulfgar when they were alone, “Why don’t you believe what Thorkil said about the clouds to be true?”

Ulfgar retorted, “Because everyone knows that the clouds are Ymir’s brains.”

Suppose that you held a belief that was so central to who you are that changing that belief would disrupt who you are.  And then suppose that someone presented you with a logical proof that destroyed your belief.  Keep in mind that their reasoning was completely logical to you.  Would you have any choice but to believe logic?  Such is the nature of truth.  When it’s logical there is no arguing about it.

Logic, Meaning, Belief, and the Psyche

Why does a person believe the things he or she does?  I would like to analyze this question in an effort to show that logic reigns supreme in the determining of what a person “should” believe.  I say “should believe” because people believe things not only through logic but also by other means.  I would like to use Jung’s map of the psyche in order to illustrate how different beliefs are formed.  Jung divides the psyche into a symmetrical object called an ogdoad.

Figure 1. shows four of the six components of the psyche according to Jung.  The top pyramid is considered to be the conscious portion of the psyche and the bottom pyramid is the unconsciousportion.  Jung’s use of the term unconscious refers to what might be better understood as the subconscious.  The two poles of the thinking and the feeling compose the rational axis of the psyche passing through both the conscious and the unconscious.  The axis that connects the sensation and the intuition are the irrational functions of the psyche.  The two poles, which are not labeled, are that of introversion and extroversion, which I shall address later.  The egoresides in the center of all of these poles and it should be noted that these poles are not fixed but are in a constant state of fluctuation in and around the ego.

The thinking portion of the psyche (the rational, conscious) evaluates and judges through cognition from the standpoint of “true-false”.  The feeling portion (the rational, unconscious) evaluates and judges through cognition from the standpoint of “pleasant-unpleasant”.  These are 2-valued logic (2VL) evaluation and judgment criteria.  Belief is a term that refers to a truth-value, however.  Ultimately, the unconscious rational 2VL must be brought into the conscious plane and evaluated on the 2VL of “true-false” in order to determine the truth of a belief formed based on the 2VL of the unconscious rational.  In other words, sometimes the truth hurts.

Nevertheless, people still do form beliefs based solely on feelings and the 2VL of “pleasant-unpleasant”.  It is inevitable for people to gravitate towards beliefs that make them feel comfortable or content; and people do this unconsciously.  If they are conscious of these beliefs then it is usually because they attempt to justify these beliefs on the grounds of faulty logic.  That is why it is important to realize this in the conscious field of the psyche and try and bring these beliefs into evaluation in the thinking field through the use of correct logic.

The two poles that comprise the irrational axis are sensation and intuition.  These functions operate on raw perceptions, which are not evaluated or interpreted.  Sensation perceives things as they are.  It is the functioning of pure sensory-neural stimuli.  It is the closest that a human comes to interacting with the environment without any mental interpretation.  Intuitionperceives things on a more internalized, unconscious level.  Jung describes intuition as the irrational perception, which is an inner or inherent potential of reality.  To intuitively perceive something is to have knowledge, or form a belief, outside of the rational realm of rationalization.  Obviously, it is necessary to once again bring these beliefs into the thinking realm in order to subject them to the 2VL of “true-false”.  There have been many amazing insights and discoveries made with intuitive leaps, however.  But, ultimately, it is the thinking function that determines the merit of these insights.

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume IV gives a very comprehensive definition of intuition. “Intuition:  The broadest definition of the term ‘intuition’ is ‘immediate apprehension’.  ‘Apprehension’ is used to cover such disparate states as sensation, knowledge, and mystical rapport.  ‘Immediate’ has as many senses as there are kinds of mediation.  It may be used to signify:

  • The absence of inference
  • The absence of causes
  • The absence of the ability to define a term
  • The absence of justification
  • The absence of symbols
  • The absence of thought

The principle meanings of ‘intuition’:

  1. Intuition is unjustified true belief not preceded by inference (‘a hunch’)
  2. Intuition as immediate (not preceded by inference) knowledge of truth of a proposition
  3. Intuition as immediate knowledge of a concept (knowledge which does not entail the ability to define a concept)
  4. Intuition as non-propositional knowledge of an entity. This sense of intuition is exemplified by:
    1. Sense perceptions, considered as products of a cognitive faculty
    2. Distinct from the faculty of forming judgments concerning the entity sensed
    3. Intuitions of universals (as time and space) (intuitive knowledge of a prioritruths)
    4. Mystical or inexpressible intuitions (as Bergson’s duration, Fichte’s Transcendental Ego, the mystic’s intuition of God).”

It is interesting to note that Jung uses the term “potential” in his description of human intuition.  In the stripping away of logical constraints we ultimately arrive at 2VL itself.  To go beyond this point is to venture into the realm where logical comparison is no longer possible.  The most that can be said about this state is that it is pre-logical.  So, it might be better to use the term pre-rational rather than irrational to describe the axis of the sensation/intuition – the point at which our cognition intersects with reality.

Jung called the other axis the extroversion/ introversion portions of the psyche.  These terms explain the psyche’s attitude towards the world.  I find Jung’s terms to be limited in their definitive scope and would replace the terms with external and internal.  This would broaden the scope of the psyche to be the union of the environment external to the human biological organism and the cognition taking place internal to the human body.  The concepts of extroversion and introversion would then be encapsulated within a broader and more explanatory concept.

Before moving on from the topic of Jung’s Ogdoad of the Psyche, I would like to point out an interesting comment by Jung about causation.  Jung mentions that the human psyche can’t be understood by causation alone, but we must also take into account the aims of the psyche.  This introduces finality, and not just causality, in the accounting of human cognition.  Essentially, Jung is saying that determinism is not adequate to explain our cognitive faculties.  We must also take into account self-determinism in order to understand the psyche.

Correlated and Non-Correlated Realities

 Ultimately, there is but one reality.  Yet, the human condition is such that there can be innumerable interpretations and beliefs about the nature of reality.  A person’s subjective view is often not in accord with objective reality.  When two people’s views are not in accord with each other or one person possesses knowledge that another does not possess then we can say that their views are non-correlated.  If, however, they agree with each other then their views are correlated.  We can further divide our subjective views of reality into external statements of reality and internal statements of reality.  For example, if I say that a picture is beautiful and you view the same picture and declare it to be ugly, we are both making true statements about the same picture.  We agree about the correlated external object because we both agree about which picture we are describing.  But we have an instance of non-correlated internal truths about reality.  Because we are describing individual taste, or aesthetics, it is acceptable for our realities to be non-correlated.  So, is there no hope for ultimate truth?  Fortunately, these differences are the root of many beliefs and interpretations of meaning, which make each of us unique.  But, when properly understood, it doesn’t jeopardize ultimate truth.  Remember the 2VL of the rational function of the psyche has two poles.  The unconscious portion is the feelingportion and it judges by the 2VL of pleasant/unpleasant.  Aesthetics, taste, and personal preference falls under the feeling function and it would be more accurate to say that “the picture is beautiful because I find it pleasant” rather than “the picture is beautiful because it is the ultimate truth”.  These views are shaped by our genetics and our experiences throughout our life.  They evolve unconsciously and to truly understand them is to raise them to the conscious portion of our psyche.  If we both rationalize why I find the picture beautiful and you find the picture ugly then we begin to have empathy and sympathy for each other’s views.  Then we begin to correlate our internal realities and understand each other.  I may then say, “I think the picture is beautiful but I can understand why you think it is ugly”.

This idea of correlating our beliefs amounts to a search for ultimate truth.  In order for a true correlation to occur there must be a Theory of Everything (TOE) established from which all derivative knowledge will flow.  The current quest for a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) can never fit this bill as long as the focus is so narrow.  If and when a GUT is realized, it will merely be a sub-theory, which must fall under a true TOE.  As long as science ignores its metaphysical mother it will never produce a true Theory of Everything.  But a true correlation of beliefs coupled with the proper TOE creates what is known as a world-view.  We each have our own world-view which shapes who we are.  Unfortunately, most people’s world-views are not grounded upon a logically valid TOE from which a healthy world-view would form.  At first it might sound like this correlation of world-views would produce an entire species of brainwashed humanoids having very little in the way of freewill.  Is there no escape from the quest for truth producing within us all a collective mind with no room for individuality?  Is science not headed down this path already?  Well, don’t panic just yet.  Your individuality and freewill are perfectly safe.  It just so happens that nature has just enough “wiggle” room to give us our truth with our freewill still intact.  We can all share a common understanding of the logical fabric of reality while still contributing our own, unique quality to the world.

Characteristics of a Correlated World-View

 The Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel foresaw the need for our species to embrace a correlated world-view.  In his short book entitled World-Views, From Fragmentation to Integration he spoke at length about some of the benefits of the human race realizing such a thing.  Leo’s little book set the challenge for humans to come together and collectively pool their knowledge in order to integrate and create a TOE from which we could prepare for the next stage of our development.  The human species has had a good run so far but let’s face it, we need a little direction.  Unless we can come together and start thinking about our future we may not get a second ride on the evolutionary-go-round.  But poor Leo underestimated the power of the human brain.  He predicted that a well-formulated world-view would have to be a massive project requiring the dissecting and dispersing of different areas to many humans.  Fortunately for us (and sadly for Leo), we have Christopher Michael Langan.

Chris has single handedly realized what Leo predicted to take many minds and much time.  The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU) not only is a TOE to be reckoned with, it is logical to the core.  But the CTMU is “more” than just a TOE, it is a world-view right after Leo’s own heart.  The CTMU not only explains reality to us, it also shows the reason why we need to get off of our haunches and start contributing to the utility of not only our species, but to reality itself.

Let’s take a look at the seven key components a world-view must address right out of Leo’s book and show how the CTMU fits the bill – and leaves a good tip too:

  1. What is the nature of our world? How is it structured and how does it function?

The CTMU shows that our reality is ultimately reduced to infocognitive state-syntax, which is cross-refined from Unbound Telesis (UBT) through a Self-Configuring, Self-Processing Language (SCSPL) via a process known as Telic Recursion.  The structure of our world is SCSPL created infocognition and it functions through telic feedback.

  1. Why is our world the way it is, and not different? Why are we the way we are, and not different?  What kind of global explanatory principles can we put forward?

Our world is the way it is because of the logical constraints which reality must adhere to. Through Telic Recursion reality selects the best possible future that will support its self-actualization and global utility function.  Since we are agent-level telors who are local expressions of the holistic medium of which we reside, we inherit the ability to either contribute to or take from the utility of reality.  As for global explanatory principles – here’s a few:  The Reality Principle, The Metaphysical Autology Principle, The Mind Equals Reality Principle, The Multiplex Unity Principle, and The Extended Superposition Principle.

  1. Why do we feel the way we feel in this world, and how do we assess global reality, and the role of our species in it?

Generally we feel the way we feel because of the level of understanding (or lack thereof) we have of our world in which we live, the amount of utility or worth we possess in relation to it, and the amount of freedom or control we have in our lives.  That is why the CTMU is not only the logical explanation of reality, but is also the basis of a new ethics for the future of mankind.

  1. How are we to act and to create in this world? How, in what different ways, can we influence the world and transform it?  What are the general principles by which we should organize our actions?

 The concept of each agent-level telor possessing a unique self that is stratified over reality leads to a vested interest in not only personal utility, but also group and global utility.  The CTMU suggests a globally and temporally extended version of the Golden Rule and Negative Golden Rule.  Contributing to the betterment of our species is the most basic method of transforming the world.

  1. What future is open to us and our species in this world?

 Our future is potentially infinite; but, for starters, a person can begin by deciding to make positive contributions within the means currently available to them.

  1. How are we to construct our image of this world in such a way that we can come up with answers to (1), (2), and (3)?

 Read A New Kind of Reality Theory. The answers are all there.

  1. What are some of the partial answers that we can propose to these questions?

 Why settle for partial answers when you can have the whole ball of yarn?  I’m telling you, it’s the cat’s meow!

RESOURCES:

Myths of the Norsemen – From the Eddas and Sagas, H. A. Guerber

The Psychology of C. G. Jung, Jolande Jacobi

World-Views, From Fragmentation to Integration, Leo Apostel

The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe – A New Kind of Reality Theory, Christopher Michael Langan

Recently, Kirsten and I caught the new Netflix documentary Devil at the Crossroads about the life of Blues legend Robert Johnson.

In June of 2004 I had to attend a class at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi for four weeks.  Keesler is located on the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi right down the road from Gulfport – a very popular vacation spot.

My weekends were free and I spent my time going for runs on the boardwalk, swimming in the ocean, playing some classical pieces on my guitar, catching up on reading, and writing a story churning around in my head. But one particular weekend a series of strange occurrences beset me and left me with a rather bizarre story to tell.

Friday after class I returned to my hotel room a little tired and decided to take a nap before dinner.  During this nap I had the strangest dream.  I was driving in a big convertible Cadillac down a country road when I came upon a black man running down the side of the road.  As I approached he turned and I could see terror sprawled on his face.  His wide eyes saw me and he thrust his thumb in the air indicating he needed a ride. I slowed down and noticed in his other hand he was carrying a worn guitar case.  I stopped to pick up the man and he removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow as he hurriedly climbed in.  He thanked me and introduced himself as Robert.  I started driving again and I noticed he kept turning to look nervously behind us as we drove and made small talk.  Obviously something was after him and he kept searching to see if it was behind us.  Finally, as we passed a sign which said Union Church, the dream ended with a large dog racing into the road ahead of us.  As I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the animal he screamed something about the hellhound.

I awoke from this dream with a start and was momentarily confused as to where I was.  As I regained my bearings I thought about the dream.  The dream was easily interpreted as a meeting with Robert Johnson, the infamous blues guitarist and native of Mississippi.  It struck me as a strangely vivid dream and my thoughts kept returning to the story of how Robert Johnson had supposedly met the Devil at a crossroads near Clarksdale or Rosedale in order to make a deal with Satan. Supposedly he had traded his soul for fame – it was an old myth which had been retold many times, in many different forms.  The story of Faust and Paganini were probably the most famous versions; but the Robert Johnson story had spawned similar stories about the members of Led Zeppelin and was recounted by other artists including Charlie Daniels.  There was even a movie made in the eighties called “Crossroads” about the legend in which the protagonist avoids losing his soul by playing an arrangement of a Paganini violin caprice on the guitar.

I went to get some dinner and thought more and more about the story of Robert Johnson.  The details were sketchy but the legend had prevailed.  Johnson had been an untalented blues guitarist who hung out with notable bluesmen Willie Brown, Charlie Patton, and Son House.  He left Robinsonville and returned home to Hazlehurst where he met Ike Zinnerman.  Zinnerman, an Alabama native like me, used to proclaim he had learned to play guitar by sitting on a tombstone in an old graveyard late at night.  Most people believe it was under Zinnerman’s tutelage Johnson became such a good guitarist.

But rumors began to spring up it wasn’t Zinnerman at all which caused Johnson to become so suddenly good.  When Johnson returned to Robinsonville his old idols took notice of his marked improvement and Son House began to tell of how Robert had met Satan down at an old crossroads in order to sell his soul in exchange for his blues playing abilities.

Robert himself never denied this rumor and, in fact, wrote several songs such as “Me and the Devil Blues”, “Hellhound on My Trail”, and “Cross Road Blues” that seemed to confirm the story.

Supposedly, according to another blues guitarist named Tommy Johnson, a person wishing to make such a deal with the Devil would sit at the crossroads about midnight and play their guitar until a strange black figure would arrive.  This black figure would, of course, be Satan himself.  Satan would take the person’s guitar, tune it, and give it back.  This would be the end of the deal and the person would suddenly possess supernatural skill and whatever fame and fortune they so desired.  But in all such tales there is never a satisfactory end and the poor individual who pays their soul usually is haunted by tragedy and pain.  In the case of Robert Johnson, he died of poisoning from one of two possible people in a jealous love triangle only a few years after tasting a little of the enormous fame he now possesses.

Just where this notorious and mystical crossroads is, is also a matter of some speculation.  Most accounts place it somewhere around Clarksdale and Rosedale in the northwestern corner of Mississippi.  But this doesn’t really seem to fit with Johnson’s sojourn back to his hometown of Hazlehurst.  Something in my dream kept gnawing at me.  It was the place name of Union Church – I had never heard of this place before in my life.

After eating I returned to my room and proceeded to peruse the road atlas of Mississippi.  I quickly found the cities of Clarksdale and Rosedale.  It took me a few more minutes to locate Hazlehurst off of I-55 and Highway 28.  And then I saw something which gave me a little bit of a shock – southwest of Hazlehurst was a town called Union Church!

Suddenly, the sign in my dream flashed back into my mind and I could see there was a number alongside the name of Union Church and the number was nine.  I looked at the map and calculated nine miles outside of Union Church coming from Hazlehurst would place the location of where the hellhound stopped the car in my dream inside of the Homochitto National Forest at the crossroads of Highway 28 and Highway 547.  For several moments I sat in bewilderment wondering what the dream could mean.  The similarity of the dream to the map was eerily accurate.

The dream and my following discovery on the map kept buzzing around in my head.  As I sat in my hotel room and strummed on my guitar I wondered how long it would take to get to the Homochitto National Forest.  I sat down with the map again and did a rough calculation of approximately 180 miles.  If I drove 60 miles per hour from Gulfport to Highway 28 and then 50 miles per hour on the smaller highway till I reached the forest, I concluded I should be able to make the trip in four hours pretty easily.  I looked at the clock and it was almost 6:30 p.m.  That would put me at the crossroads this very night at around 10:30 p.m.  Plenty of time to make it before midnight.

Before I had time to question the absurdity of my actions I had grabbed a few articles of clothing, some toiletries, the road atlas, and my guitar and was pulling out onto I-90 from Biloxi to Gulfport.

As I drove the two-door rental car along the coast I pondered just what it was I was hoping to achieve on this trip.  Would I really meet someone claiming to be Satan at the crossroads?  If I did have a chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and guitar virtuosity, would I do it?  I used to dream of being a well known guitarist but that had faded over the years. While I still enjoyed music and worked hard at improving my playing, I really had no desire to be known for my playing ability.  I still entertained dreams of being known for my compositional ability on the classical guitar but that too was secondary to my real passion – writing.  If I had to choose what posterity would remember me for it would be as an author of short horror and weird fiction.  Now, if I had the chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and writing virtuosity, I would definitely do it.  That’s how badly I wanted to be a well known author.

I recall the drive very well.  I grappled with the urge to smoke on the drive is why.  I used to be a very unusual smoker.  I never really was a true smoker by any stretch. I never smoked during the day for one. When I did smoke was when I had a few beers in the evening.  I would smoke when really bored or when stressed out about something, too.  I always exercised fairly regular to ward off the bad effects of smoking so I didn’t really over worry about my habit. I did want to quit completely because I knew it was unhealthy.  I had been doing pretty well on the trip so far at quitting but the drive was really boring.  Finally, I gave in to my desires and stopped to buy a pack of smokes.  After having the first wonderful cigarette I cursed my weakness and vowed to quit after I finished the pack.  I had done it many times before but this time it really stuck in my memory.  You’ll understand why in a moment; but first, let me tell the rest.

It was about 9:45 when I reached Hazlehurst.  I briefly entertained the idea of stopping and seeing one of the town’s Robert Johnson tourist attractions but decided it would take too long.  No, I was being driven by an inexplicable force and my only concern was my dream-revealed destination.

The rest of the drive was over quickly and I soon was entering the Homochitto National Forest.  The crossroads was immediately inside the forest and before I realized it I was upon the Highway 547 sign.  I stopped quickly and pulled over on the shoulder of the road staring at the sign which said Union Church was nine miles down the road.  I looked at my watch and it read 10:27 p.m.  I sat for a few minutes and smoked another cigarette. The traffic on Highway 28 was light – only an occasional car passed by.

I waited until there was no traffic coming in any direction and then I retrieved my guitar from the back seat and found a spot to sit. It was a nice night – hot but clear. A slight wind blew from the west which served to make the heat at least tolerable.  It was fairly dark but I could see well enough to find a dead log at the edge of the woods on which to sit.  I was close enough to the road to see it but hidden enough where passing cars wouldn’t notice me.

I opened my guitar case and pulled out my guitar.  I felt a little weird about the whole affair but I thought it would at least make for a good story to tell my friends.  At first I started playing some blues licks but I felt the need to play something a little more challenging.  So then I started playing Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for the Guitar.  This was a rather difficult piece I had been working on recently and it somehow seemed appropriate at the time.

I played this piece and then played a few others then took a break to smoke another cigarette.  Then I got up and walked around for several minutes and returned to the log to sit and wait.

It was getting close to 11:30 and I was growing bored of this whole ordeal.  I decided to play the Paganini piece one more time before calling it a night.  My attention was completely focused on my guitar when a voice made me jump and scared me so bad I dropped my guitar as I rose and retreated from the voice.

“Whatchoo doin’ out here this late at night, boy?”  I recovered enough to regard an old black man standing at the edge of the road about 20 or 30 yards away.

I really didn’t know what to say in reply so I made up a lie. “I’m just passing through and was getting sleepy at the wheel so I stopped to get some fresh air and wake up a bit before continuing on.”  Was this really the Devil coming to make a deal with me?  The old man sure didn’t look like the Devil to me.

“What kinda music you playin’?” he asked walking a bit closer.

“Oh, it’s classical music,” I said by way of explanation.

“Uh huh,” he mumbled as if not really caring.

“What are you doing out here this late?” I asked.

“On my way home.  My name’s Esau,” he said.

I introduced myself as I walked over to meet him and shake his hand.  “Do you want to tune my guitar?”  I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth as I spoke them.  It sounded so ridiculous and I cursed myself before I had even finished the sentence.

“Tune your guitar?” he said in confusion.  “Tune your own damn guitar, boy.  I don’t know how to play no guitar.”

“I’m sorry,” I said uncomfortably.  I produced a cigarette and lit it.

“Mind if I get a smoke from ya?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said offering the pack and my lighter to him. He took a cigarette and lit it, took a long drag, and made a face as if he were relishing the taste.

After a moment he looked at me and said, “Well, I guess I best me moseyin’ along.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.  I remember thinking if he were the Devil then he sure didn’t make me feel scared; and he sure didn’t seem to care about making any kind of deal for my soul.

“Well, it was nice meetin’ ya,” he said as he headed back to the road.

“Nice meeting you too,” I returned.  I picked up my guitar and began putting it back in its case. He made one last comment before getting too far out of earshot which completely changed the harmless little encounter into something I swear made me think he was actually the Devil.

“Thanks for the smoke, boy.  I’ll settle up with you when I see you again.”  This last comment struck me as so strange I couldn’t formulate a response.  Before I realized it, he had disappeared into the darkness.

You might well think this chance encounter was just a coincidence and his comment at the end meant nothing at all.  I would’ve dismissed it too if the story had ended there.  But it didn’t.

I had planned on spending the night in my car and heading back to Biloxi the next morning but I was too rattled to sleep – especially at the crossroads.  So I drove back that night.  I had pretty much convinced myself my imagination was running wild trying to attach some weird meaning to an otherwise harmless encounter by the time I reached Hattiesburg.

I smoked as I drove and promised myself that after this pack was finished, I would quit again.  The pack was getting low and just after I went through Gulfport I pulled the last cigarette out of the pack and nearly had a wreck at what I beheld.  The cigarette was a solid black cigarette with one white marking on the side – a skull and crossbones.

I had to pull over to the side of the road to catch my breath.  My heart was thundering inside my chest.  My mind reeled at the meaning of the cigarette and just how it could’ve gotten in the pack.  Did the old black man use some slight of hands or was he really the Devil?

It took me several minutes to regain my composure. I drove back to my hotel room and sat on my bed looking at the cigarette wondering what to make of it.

Finally, I decided it was the Devil I had met and he knew it wasn’t virtuosity on the guitar I wanted.  No, he knew it was virtuosity in writing I desired.  That was my passion; my weakness.  I also knew the deal would be made if I smoked the black cigarette.

I can’t say how long I sat there struggling over whether or not to smoke the black cigarette.  I won’t tell you what I finally did but one day you’ll know…one day, you’ll know.

 

In 1991 I was a medic in the U.S. Air Force assigned to a refueling squadron in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Mostly, this entailed performing sick call a couple of times a day and issuing medicine to stop attacks of diarrhea rather than any real attacks by Iraqis.  The Saudi Arabian government had allowed us to inhabit a fairly nice community they had originally built for the Bedouin nomads who roamed the desert and periodically migrated into Riyadh.  But, the Bedouins, being fond of their nomadic lifestyle, had refused to occupy the permanent buildings.  This village was called Eskan Village and it lay on the eastern border of Riyadh.

I first met Michael Shaler at the clinic we had established at Eskan Village when we were scheduled to work “sick call” together. We immediately hit it off.  Shaler was a very outspoken guy and his looks were stereotypical of his California origins.  He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and spoke with the slang of a surfer at times. He was constantly bubbling with energy and was always looking for some type of adventure; and when there was no adventure to be found, he would settle for mischief.  What was not to like about Shaler?  His cheerfulness and playfulness were infectious and no matter what you were doing with him, you would be guaranteed an entertaining time.

All of the medical personnel were billeted in the same area of Eskan Village and Shaler and I managed to be placed in the same villa.  We were, in turn, billeted adjacent to the troops who worked in Life Support.  This job refers to the men and women who maintain and equip the planes with life saving devices such as parachutes, oxygen masks, flares, life rafts, survival rations, and such equipment.  We had made friends with some of these enlisted men and would routinely hang out with them along with a couple of other medics from our unit.

The roofs of the villas were designed as a type of deck and had a four-foot high wall completely enclosing it.  We frequently would go over to the villa occupied by the Life Support guys and hang out on their rooftop while off duty. I remember one day when Shaler got the idea of talking the Life Support guys into bringing home a life raft from work and inflating it on the rooftop so we could fill it with water in order to have a small pool for cooling off in.

Another time Shaler talked us all into filling surgical gloves with water to make water balloons.  We then would throw them at people passing by the villa and duck behind the wall of the roof laughing and giggling while the unsuspecting victim would be left soaking wet wondering where the projectile had come from.

[A view of Eskan Village. Notice the walls around the roofs.]

[A different flag our neighbors flew. The view is from behind the roof wall.]

I mention these specific examples for two reasons.  The first is that they illustrate Shaler’s attempts to liven up our drab existence in the desert – his sense of adventure and mischief in an otherwise dull situation. The second, and in retrospect, more disturbing, is that they stick out in my mind as involving water.  This may sound rather trivial, but you must hear the entire story to see that maybe these ominous portents were signs of the horrible fate that eventually befell Shaler.  But signs like these are easily overlooked when they occur and only stand out in stark relief when viewed in retrospect.

I’m not really sure how Shaler heard about the cave, but he came to our group with the plan to visit it already formulated. The others in our group were Billy Jubinski, Jose Juarez, and Timothy Clay.  These last three were all Life Support guys.  We were all on our way to dinner at the compound’s chow tent when Shaler joined us smiling from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat.

“I found out about a cave that isn’t more than 25 klicks from here.  This weekend we’re gonna check out a truck from the motor pool and go do a little exploring.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Shaler?” Jubinski asked.

“It’s supposed to be a really big cave with a pool in it,” Shaler said excitedly.  “The pool is huge and we can go swimming in it.”

“Who did you hear this from?” Clay said.

“I have my sources,” Shaler replied obtusely.

“Your sources, huh?” I said echoing Clay’s skepticism.

“Yeah, listen, the pool is deep in the cave so it’ll be pitch black in there.  We’ll need flashlights, but I was wondering if you guys have any really big light sources?”

Jubinski gave Shaler a reproving look for a moment, but Shaler just stared at him with that big, shit-eating grin locked on his face. Finally, Jubinski shook his head and said, “We have beacons for signaling which are pretty bright.”  With those words it was decided that we were going on Shaler’s little spelunking expedition.

It was later in the week that Juarez announced his idea for taking a handful of chemical glow-sticks that we could use to float in the pool of water in order to light the pool while we swam.  Our excitement grew as the weekend approached and Shaler was nearly beside himself with anticipation.  On Friday our excitement was interrupted by an event that drove the exhilaration of the weekend’s expedition from our thoughts.

[Bill, David, and Doc Mitchell.]

[An excursion to Diriyah. For some reason I thought a fanny pack was worth the loss of cool points.]

[The ruins were along the river where palm trees were a rare sight in the Arabian Desert.]

Shaler and I were on duty when a call came in from the guard on duty at the entry control gate of the compound.  He said there had been a bad wreck just outside of the compound on the freeway and he didn’t know if any American soldiers were involved or not.  Shaler, Dr. Fleming, who was the Flight Surgeon on duty, and I got in the ambulance and responded to the accident scene.

Apparently, a bus full of Arabic workers had driven off of the overpass and nose-dived onto the freeway below.  There was no Saudi Arabian transit system, or any real traffic laws for that matter, to speak of.  The workers pushed the carrying capacity of the busses to the limit and they rode the busses to and from work like sardines packed into a can.

The quickest way for us to get to the accident was to drive down the exit ramp on the wrong side of the road.  As we turned onto the exit ramp a truck stopped us and the Arab driver jumped out yelling in Arabic.  We got out and I immediately saw he and his passenger had thrown whatever survivors they could grab into the bed of the truck.  There were at least eight bloody and moaning people in the back. We couldn’t understand a word the driver was saying and Dr. Fleming finally convinced the man to take the poor, wounded passengers to the nearest hospital.  They were badly injured but alive.  Our services would be needed for all of the victims still entangled in the wreckage.

When we arrived at the wreckage it was a chaotic mess.  There were numerous injured and dead strewn across the freeway.  People who were driving but not involved in the accident were crowded around and trying to assist in whatever way they could.  We began to go through the task of triaging the patients and looking for the ones who needed the most immediate medical treatment.  Just after we arrived the Saudi Arabian emergency medical services arrived and began to take control of the scene.  It was a blur of activity, but eventually we were able to remove ourselves from the scene. Just before we left I caught Shaler staring at the dead bodies.  One particular body was lying with his head at an unnaturally sick angle and his eyes wide and glassy.  He appeared to be looking right at Shaler and Shaler just stood and stared back at the dead man.  I clapped Shaler on the back and caused him to stir from his dazed look.  “C’mon, Man,” I said.  “We can go now.”

[Islamic medical symbol.]

The rest of the day Shaler wasn’t his usual, jovial self.  The carnage of the accident really affected him and I too felt sobered by the event. That night, back at our villa, he awoke in the middle of the night with a yell.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I somehow knew he had had a nightmare about the wreck and the dead bodies.  The next morning, however, Shaler was back to normal and the excitement of the day’s trip had shoved the bus wreck from our minds.

[Another excursion was to the camel market where I drank fresh camel’s milk – and still wore a fanny pack.]

We procured a desert-camouflaged, four-wheel drive Bronco from the motor pool, loaded our gear, and headed out into the ancient Arabian Desert.  The excitement was high and we had the feeling that we were embarking on an exploration of uncharted territory.  Jubinski drove and Shaler rode shotgun as the navigator.  He had a map spread across his lap and he and Jubinski debated routes and locations while the other three of us joked and talked as we bumped along ever more rugged terrain.

We turned onto a sandy road and in the distance could be seen a long chain of cliffs.  The cliffs seemed utterly out of place lying in the midst of endless miles of flat desert.  As we approached, the cliffs continued to recede and it soon grew apparent that these cliffs were quite large.  The road finally turned to run parallel to the cliffs and we could see they were approximately three-hundred feet high and held flat plateaus across their tops. These flat tops grew to be several hundred feet across at some points.

We drove along this road, occasionally turning toward the cliffs as other roads appeared, as Shaler and Jubinski tried to find the location of the cave mouth.  It was slow going and nearly an hour elapsed before we found what we were looking for – and there was no mistaking that this was the cave mouth we sought.

My only experience at cave exploration was when I went as a child on a school fieldtrip to Rickwood Caverns in Warrior, Alabama.  Those caves were an extensive network of stalactite and stalagmite-ridden, limestone caverns.  They were irregular and filled with mineral formations and the omnipresent dripping of water.  The cave we were approaching was a gigantic mouth yawning from the depths of the desert.

The cave-mouth kept growing and growing until our Bronco was a mere period following a vast oval zero laid on its side.  I estimated the mouth of the cave to be larger than a football field and it continued at that size to descend at a 45-degree angle into the base of the cliff wall and down into the bowels of the desert.

We piled out of the truck and stood staring in awe at the vast behemoth that confronted our eyes.  The only other time I felt so insignificant before the size of Mother Nature’s handiwork was when I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon stunned and silent.

[Ain Heet – A stunning view of the cave mouth.]

Several minutes elapsed before the spell was broken and we donned our gear to begin the trek down into the cave.  We whooped and talked in excitement as we set off.  The path was a boulder-littered and sandy rock field that we scrambled over and around with the thrill of adventure coursing through our blood.

We hiked like this for several minutes until we finally entered the vast shadow of the cave’s ceiling and the temperature immediately dropped to a more tolerable level as the baking desert sun was blocked; however, the air was still as dry as the caress of a mummy’s hand.  The cave ceiling loomed high above us and I felt as though we had entered the mouth of a giant, fossilized behemoth.

We picked our way slowly down the rock field for another 45-minutes as the light slowly dimmed and the cave mouth began to close.  Every so often I looked back at the cave-mouth and noted its size – first, as wide as my arm span; next, the size of a football (at which point we turned on our flashlights); and finally, no bigger than an egg.  And then we came upon a wall of boulders and our progress was abruptly halted.

[Abdul was a local man who told us the cave was avoided by the locals because it was associated with desert djin, or evil sprits. He warned us not to go in.]

[Mike Shaler is on the far right.]

“Well, Shaler?” Jubinski said.  “I thought there was supposed to be a pool down here.”

“There is,” Shaler said, scanning the boulders with his flashlight beam.  “There is supposed to be a crack in the rocks that we can climb through to get on the other side.”

“How do you know this, Shaler?” I exclaimed.

“I told you.  I have my sources.”

“Seriously, man,” Juarez began, but his comment was cut short by Clay.

“Hey, guys, over here!  I think I found it!”

Sure enough, Clay had found a slim crack between the boulders through which we all managed to worm our way through to the other side.  When I emerged on the other side the first thing I noticed was we had entered a totally new kind of darkness.  A darkness so profound it was palpable.  At one point someone made the suggestion to turn out all flashlights and I couldn’t even see my hand right before my eyes.

The wall of boulders ended as abruptly as it had emerged and the cave continued on in its previous manner.  I suspected the blockage was the result of a cave-in but kept this observation to myself.  We went on for another ten or fifteen minutes and then the humidity assaulted us.  It was like walking into a sauna and there was little doubt we were approaching some type of water source.

It wasn’t long before we reached the pool. Shaler, whatever his source of knowledge, had been right.  The pool was magnificent.  Shaler broke into an animated dance while yelling and laughing in triumph.

“I told you, boys!  Didn’t I tell you there was pool?  It’s gorgeous!”

The water was so clear it looked only a few feet deep.  Someone announced they were throwing a rock in and there followed a loud “bloosh” and my flashlight caught the location.  The water rippled and the rock was seen descending to the bottom.  It was apparent that the water was very deep.

[The only rock out of water is the large one in the foreground.]

The three guys from Life Support removed the lights they had brought and soon we had illumination well enough to see most of the pool.  It was the size of a small swimming pool and got deeper as the cave continued to descend. At the far side, the roof of the cave eventually met the water’s surface and it looked to me that this was the very bottom of the cave; however, there very well could have been more to the cave system.

We quickly stripped down to our swimming shorts and raced to enter the water.  Of course, Shaler was the first to plunge into the pool, but we all followed immediately after.  The water was exquisite.  It was cool, clear, deep, and big enough for us all to enjoy.  We soon discovered a boulder that jutted out of the water enough to provide a platform for jumping from and we all took turns climbing it and leaping in funny gyrations into the water.

With no one watching, Juarez slipped from the pool and shut off our lights.  We were thrown into pitch blackness and everyone began to yell with a tinge of fear in their voices until Juarez laughed at us and told us to hold on. Then, little green lights began to appear from where he sat as he broke the chemical sticks.  Each time he broke one he tossed it into the pool.  We tread water and watched each green stick glide through the air and plop in the pool.  Soon, they were floating all around us and the pool began to emanate an eerie, green glow – it is that same fluorescent green glow that haunts my dreams now and, when I see it in my waking state, I cringe from it like an arachnophobe from a spider.

Jubinski was the one who came up with the idea to tie the glow-sticks to rocks and submerge them.  This was done and soon the entire pool glowed a sickly, luminous green even more profound than when they were floating on the pool’s surface. I can’t remember how long we swam this way before Shaler announced he was going to try and dive as deep as he could in the back of the pool to see if it continued into another chamber.

Several times he disappeared and we waited for his return with news of his discoveries.  Shaler was a good swimmer, having grown up on the west coast beaches of California, and we were a little worried at how long he was gone beneath the dark waters each time he went under.  He went three times and returned with nothing to report but the fact that there was just rock as far as he could determine.  The fourth time he went down he returned quickly in a mad haste to get out of the pool spluttering and splashing all the while yelling, “I saw something!  Get out! I saw something down there!”

We all rushed to get out of the pool before questioning Shaler.

“What was it?”

“What did you see?”

“Was it a fish?”

“Are you sure you saw something?”

Shaler was visibly shaken and he tried to explain, but it came in fragments and I was sure he was trying to hide something.

“I don’t know…it was moving…but it wasn’t a fish. No, it definitely wasn’t a fish. It was moving…  C’mon, guys, let’s get the hell out of here!”  Shaler found the rescue beacons and turned on the lights so that the bright, white light drove the green glow away and our visibility was drastically improved.  We all retrieved our flashlights and searched the pool, but there was no sign of anything in the water moving.

We were all suddenly aware of the alien remoteness of our location and even though we all thought Shaler had just imagined seeing something, no one wanted to be the first to venture back into the pool.

Jubinski said, “I think you were seeing things, Shaler.”

Shaler commenced to drying off and merely said, “I saw something.  Don’t get back in.”

“You’re freaking me out, man,” Clay replied.

Jubinski broke the tension by saying, “Let’s go, guys. I want to explore the cliffs anyway.”

We all hastily dried off and dressed while keeping a wary eye on the pool.  We returned up the slope and hurried to squeeze through the crack in the boulders without saying very much.  At one point, before crawling through, I looked back one more time at the pool and a chill slithered down my spine as I beheld the glowing, green pool far below in the remote depths of the cave.

Once we emerged on the other side of the boulder obstruction, the darkness returned to a normal darkness and our moods were immediately altered for the better – all, that is, except for Shaler.  He remained silent and consumed in his own thoughts.  As we began the arduous trek back up the long tunnel Juarez came up to me and whispered, “Hey, man.  I bet Shaler is just messing with us.  I bet it’s just another one of his pranks.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re right.”  But I still didn’t believe it.  Something about the look in Shaler’s eyes when he came out of the water told me he was genuinely terrified.  He kept looking over his shoulder as if he were afraid that something was pursuing him.

By the time we struggled up the rugged path out of the cave we were so exhausted we didn’t have the energy to do any further exploring.  We all, except for Shaler who was unusually quiet, agreed that we could return to do further exploring at a later time.  And so, fatigued and hungry, we climbed inside the Bronco and headed back to Eskan Village.

Shaler never recovered from that trip into the cave. On the contrary, his condition spiraled into madness at an alarming rate.  In the days immediately following our excursion he seemed withdrawn and said very little.  I tried to engage him in conversations and frequently asked him if he was feeling all right. He made vague comments and refused to elaborate on anything.

Several nights later, I heard him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep.  I went to check on him and he awoke with a violent start.  Whatever nightmare had haunted him it must have been a very vivid one because he was very shaken.

[We supported aerial refuelers (KC-135’s) and had many opportunities to ride along with missions over Iraq.]

About a week later, I awoke in the middle of the night after hearing a noise.  When I rose to investigate what had caused the noise I found Shaler’s bed empty. Assuming he had risen because he couldn’t sleep and had probably gone for a walk, I returned to bed.  He was back the next morning and I didn’t think much more about the episode.

Several nights later, I heard Shaler leaving again and this time I watched him through the window and saw he was carrying a flashlight and a large water bottle.  Evidently, he wasn’t going out just to get fresh air, but was headed somewhere in particular.  It crossed my mind that it might be the cave, but I just couldn’t bring myself to accept this because of how much the episode in the cave had scared him.  I was confused and decided to try and follow him.

He kept to the shadows as he wound his way through Eskan Village.  I stayed back and made sure I wasn’t seen.  We finally arrived at the tent that was used as the motor pool.  But Shaler didn’t enter the tent.  Instead, he pulled a set of keys from his pocket and got into one of the Broncos.  I remained hidden as I watched him drive off.  I couldn’t believe that he would go back to the cave.  That’s where he had to be going, but why?  And especially by himself!  The thought of it made me shudder.

I returned to my villa and tried to sleep, but it was useless.  I lay awake wondering just what Shaler was up to.  It just didn’t make any sense.  Why would a person who was so scared return alone to such a dark and desolate place? Maybe he wasn’t even going to the cave. Or maybe he was meeting someone else at the cave and going in with them.  Maybe Juarez was right in his assessment that Shaler was just playing a joke on us.  Perhaps Shaler was returning there to build on his joke.  It just didn’t fit, though.  Shaler’s nightmares and the way his behavior had changed were all wrong. Unless his practical joke was far more elaborate than I expected.

I decided to attempt to follow Shaler all the way into the cave if he made another trip.  I remained awake until Shaler returned several hours later.  I couldn’t stand not knowing what he was up to and I confronted him when he entered our villa.

“Where have you been, Shaler?”

“Garrett, My God!  You scared the crap out of me.  I couldn’t sleep and -”

“Don’t lie, Shaler.  I know you’ve been to the cave.”

“What are you talking about?” He said trying to feign that my insinuation was hurtful.

“I followed you to the motor pool.  I know you went to the cave,” I lied trying to make him confess.

Suddenly, he grabbed my shirt and pulled me close saying, “What did you see?  Did you go into the cave?  Did you see them?”

His eyes were wild and his behavior was scaring me, but I pushed him back and said, “See who?  No, I didn’t go in the cave.”

Then, Shaler’s face changed.  I know no other way to describe it other than to say that a transformation spread across his face.  “I saw them in the pool, Garrett.  They were calling me to join them.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said horrified.

“I know you think I’m mad.  What else would you think?  But, I tell you it’s true.  That day we all went to the cave, I saw them in the dark depths of the pool. I don’t know who or what they are but they came to me in my nightmares.  They showed me what eternity looks like, Garrett.  I’ve been down there for hours just gazing into the pool; watching them.”

I was stunned.  I tried to make some sort of reply to his gibberish, but could think of absolutely nothing to say.  He watched me with that same wild look on his face and then it completely drained out of his face and he began to chuckle.

“I’m just kidding, Garrett,” he said trying to play it off.  “I was just messing with you, dude.  I did go down there to the cave, but I took some other guys down there to swim.  You know, like a tour guide.”

“What?” I said bewildered.  In my sleep-starved state I didn’t know whether he was kidding or serious or just plain lying.

“Yeah, there were these Army guys who wanted to go down there and the only time they could go was at nighttime.  I mean, it is a pitch-black cave after all, right?”

I was so tired that I didn’t bother to try and make any sense out of what Shaler had said nor his erratic behavior.  I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep. The next day I didn’t see Shaler at all. I went to work at the clinic and he went with one of our Flight Surgeons on a flight.  The flight they went on lasted well into the night and I was so exhausted after work, I went to bed early.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of Shaler’s nightmare fits.  I went to his doorway and listened to him.  He was mumbling and thrashing about in the bed and I stood and listened for several moments.  I could only make out a word here and there but I gathered he was dreaming of the pool and was telling someone that he was coming to meet them.  I stood there horrified as chills spread through my body. What madness was afflicting him? I gathered my nerves and decided to wake him.

I entered his room and beheld him in the throws of his nightmare ranting and writhing.  I cautiously touched his leg and called his name, “Shaler!”

He awoke with a start and stared wide-eyed into empty space before his eyes focused on me.  Then he startled me by grabbing my wrists.

“Garrett, my God!  I’ve seen them again.  I must go back to the cave.”

“It was only a nightmare, Shaler.  You were just dreaming.”  He merely brushed off what I said and rose from the bed and began searching around for his clothes.

“They’ve shown me eternity.  You can’t imagine the mysteries they’ve revealed to me.”

“Snap out of it!  You’re talking crazy.”

“Am I?  Have youseen them, Garrett?”  He continued to dress and I grabbed his arm. He jerked violently away and then shoved me.  Then a horrible look leapt into his eyes and he growled, “Get your filthy hands off of me.”

I was stunned.  This wasn’t the Shaler I knew.  He was mad.  “What the hell is your problem?” I countered.

I tried to reason with him but we just argued. He dressed and I followed him out of the villa.  It was in the street out front that I tried to grab him again.  This time, however, he wheeled on me and landed a hard punch right on my chin that knocked me out cold.

I awoke still lying on the pavement of the street.  Shaler was nowhere to be seen.  I pushed myself up and rubbed my chin trying to gather my wits.  The cave; Shaler had gone to the cave.  I had to go after him.

I rose to my feet and thought through how I should proceed.  I didn’t have a vehicle and I really couldn’t remember the route to the cave even if I did have one.  The day we went Jubinski had driven.  I decided to go to the Life Support villa and wake Jubinski.

I checked my watch and it was after 1 o’clock in the morning.  Eskan Village was dead silent.  When I arrived at Jubinski’s villa, I could tell that no one was awake.  I didn’t care, though.  I pounded on the door until Clay finally opened the door rubbing his eyes.  I explained to him I needed to talk to Jubinski and he let me in then went back to bed.  I woke Jubinski and pleaded my case to him.  He groggily listened to my story and saw I was obviously distressed by Shaler’s bizarre behavior.  Finally, he consented to go with me to the cave.

Once he was committed to the journey we had to acquire a vehicle.  We discussed sneaking a truck from the motor pool but this seemed a bit risky.

“What about an ambulance?” He said.

“What do you mean?”

“The clinic is on 24-hour shifts so let’s get an ambulance.”

“I can’t just go get one.”

“No, but you know the people working there. Talk them into letting you take one.”

It was worth a shot.  We headed over to the clinic and I talked to the two technicians on duty.  After about ten minutes of haggling and bribing they let us take the spare ambulance and agreed that if anything came up they would cover for us.

As we drove through the hot Arabian night I told him the entire tale of what had been going on with Shaler.  He agreed that it sounded like Shaler had lost his mind. We discussed several possibilities and I finally told him about the episode with the bus wreck.  When I told Jubinski about the ambulance run we had made the day before we went on our cave expedition he agreed that was probably the catalyst for Shaler’s mental malady.

When we finally arrived at the cave, it was disconcerting to see the desert-camouflaged Bronco sitting there empty, dwarfed by the ominous cave-mouth.  As we made the long journey into the depths of the cave, I experienced a growing sense of dread.  It was comforting to have Jubinski as a companion and I tried to drive out of my mind the hideous thought of making the descent alone.

We made it to the wall of boulders and located the crack.  I volunteered to go through first.  My heart was thundering in my chest as I squirmed through the narrow opening.  I didn’t know what to expect or why I had such a profound sense of dread.  I felt as if I were entering a vast, ancient sepulcher.  I emerged on the other side and played my flashlight beam over the immediate area.  Nothing but rock and silent space met my eyes.  I waited nervously while Jubinski wormed his way through the crack.  When he emerged beside me I felt a bit better, but there was still an oppressive aura of unnatural remoteness that pervaded the cave.  I felt as if we were aliens intruding into a forbidden crypt.

I wondered what Shaler was doing.  Was he completely out of his mind?  Would we find him swimming?  What if we found him raving mad?  Or even worse, what if we found him dead?

We trudged on and suddenly Jubinski grabbed my shoulder pulling me to a halt.

“Turn off your light,” he whispered.

“Are you crazy?” I retorted.

“Shhhh,” he hissed snapping his light off.  I reluctantly complied and we were suddenly plunged into utter blackness.  After a couple of seconds the sickly green glow of the pool emerged from the darkness.

“Look, it’s the pool glowing,” I heard myself whispering.

“Impossible.  Those glow-sticks would’ve burnt out days ago.”

“Maybe Shaler brought more.”

“Maybe,” Jubinski said in disbelief.  Then Jubinski shouted, “Shaler!” and I jerked in a spasmodic wave of fear shot through my body.

“Jesus Christ, Jubinski!  You scared the shit out of me,” I said with a mix of anger and fear.

“Sorry,” he said and turned his flashlight back on. He called several more times as we continued picking our way down toward the pool but his cries just echoed through the cavern with no reply coming back in return.

Finally, we made it to the pool.  There was no sign of Shaler anywhere.  The pool’s weird, green glow was simply eerie.  We apprehensively scanned the water of the pool fearing what we might find there.  The water was as still as glass, though.

“If he were swimming, the water wouldn’t be this calm,” Jubinski offered.

“Do you think -”  But my question was cut off by a sudden, primal scream.  I fell backwards in stark terror and whipped my light in the direction of the scream.  There, framed by the light, stood Shaler with a flashlight in his hand and the inert form of Jubinski lying beside him.  Shaler had attacked Jubinski.  I couldn’t tell if Jubinski were alive or dead.  Shaler had a maniacal stare on his face and was breathing heavily.

“Garrett, thank God you came.  It’s all clear to me now.  I know what I must do.”

I was terrified.  I tried to speak, but the words stuck in my throat.  I began to stumble backwards.

“It’s not just me they want,” he said icily. “They want you too.”

He lunged at me then.  I recoiled and tried to put distance between us but the rocks were too cumbersome to navigate in the dark.  He swung at me with the flashlight and I was able to duck the blow.  I got a punch off at his stomach and felt my fist bury into his abdomen.  He let out a woosh of air but managed to wrap an arm around my neck.  I tried to pull free but his arm was locked around my head. I didn’t think; I just reacted.  I tried to push into him and drive him to the ground but instead, he fell backwards into the pool.  He still had me in a headlock as we splashed into the cool, green water.  I pried at his arm and struggled to break free but it was no use.  I was running out of air and panicking.  Just then I felt a strong sense of being pulled deeper into the water.  Then I felt my head pop free from his hold and I pushed away from Shaler.  I clawed at the water in an effort to find the surface; to find the air I so desperately needed.  I managed to open my eyes and I saw Shaler being pulled down by a throng of shapes.  Their hands were wrapped about his body and I could see Shaler’s face calm and serene as he smiled back at me.  Just before I broke the surface of the water I saw them disappear into the green-tinted darkness and one of the figures looked at me!  It was the most hideous thing I’ve ever beheld in my life.  I’ve tried to convince myself that it was just an illusion; just a trick of the mind caused by the lack of oxygen or my rattled nerves.  But sometimes, when I let my guard down, the realness of it overtakes me.  Deep inside I know the truth.  I know what I saw.  It was the face of the dead Arab from the bus wreck.

I clambered from the pool in an outrageous panic. Jubinski wasn’t dead, thank God. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he were.  I probably would have lost it.  I shook him until he came to and then I told him that Shaler was gone.  I told him that he had dove in the pool and never come up. I couldn’t tell him what I really saw. He wouldn’t have believed me anyway.

We made our way back out in a complete daze. When we got back to Eskan Village we sought out our commander and told him the entire story.  Of course, I left out the part about me seeing the things in the pool.

They sent a team back into the cave to try and find the body of Michael Shaler but he was never found.  After that it was forbidden for any serviceman to go to the cave.

Before I left Saudi Arabia I managed to talk to one of the men who went into the cave to search for Shaler.  I just wanted to know one thing.

“When you went into the cave did you see anything unusual in the pool?”

“There was nothing in the pool,” he said thinking about it.  “But the pool did give off this really creepy green glow.”

Here are several illustrations I created for The Other Side of Despair. Specifically for the story “The Land of Nod”.

 

 

 

If you were to go and do a simple internet search for the phrase “artistic representations of Pi” (and I encourage you do so), you’d find a slew of amazing looking pieces that generally depict what looks like random noise. Sure, the noise may be presented elegantly, but the fact still remains, the digits of Pi, when plotted out, just represent an overall lack of pattern.

You, see, people tend to focus on the actual digits. Before I begin talking about an alternative approach, let’s talk about art in general. Upon the wall of my son’s pre-school classroom is a chart which reads: ELEMENTS OF ART. The elements include: Color, Value, Line, Texture, Shape, Form, and Space. This is a nice list that indicates the sort of elements that I tried to bring to the problem of representing Pi in what I believe are three very interesting ways.

There are a couple of other mathematical concepts that relate to art which I relied on heavily for this project. The first is Symmetry. By imposing symmetry onto Pi, it becomes less about the noise. This I did by folding Pi into a circle. Quite apropos, but it’s been done before.

The second thing was by studying which numbers do produce wonderful patterns in art. It turns out that this is done by creating what is called a Sequence. Arguably, the most famous sequence is the Fibonacci Sequence. This is created by using the real numbers and adding them together serially:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 . . .

The Fibonacci Sequence is a marvel of the mathematical world as well as appears throughout the natural world in countless permutations.

Another famous sequence is the Primes. A number that can’t be divided by any number except itself and 1:

2,3,5,7, 11, 13, 17, 19 . . .

There is an entire library of sequences:

Sequences

What is missing is the sequence created by adding the digits of Pi serially. I’ve searched and searched for the sequence’s name and for any research into exploring its properties, but, apparently, I’m laying claim to it.

The sequence turns out to be:

3, 4, 8, 9, 14, 23, 25, 31, 36 . . .

One thing you’ll notice about such sequences is that they almost always grow as the sequence progresses. It is because of the relationship between the numbers, rather than just the numbers themselves, that make sequences a great tool for an artist and a mathematician to explore.

It should also be noted that I chose a 36 degree circle because of its divisibility and the fact that it limits most of the sequences I wanted to explore to a range of 6 to 11 numbers. A very manageable set that can be used for multiple purposes, as you’ll see. So, with the limit set to 36, the serialized Pi sequence we are going to explore by encoding into three schemas is once again:

3, 4, 8, 9, 14, 23, 25, 31, 36

These nine numbers will be turned into 3D Shapes, Colors, and Sounds.

To understand my approach, it helps to understand how to form a cardioid – a shape within a circle that resembles a heart.

We’ll be using a 36-degree circle, so it helps to understand how these 36 nodes will be counted. For these examples, we’ll always be using the bottom node as our Starting Point (the node in the South direction, or in the 6 o’clock position. Instead of counting the Starting Point as “1”, however, we consider it to be “0”.

Notice that when you count up one side of the circle that the lines grow longer until you reach the number “18”, which is directly opposite node “0”, and then the lines become shorter incrementally again as you count higher. In essence, the numbers 1-17 all have a corollary number 19-35 so that the distance from 0 to 1 is the same in length as 0 to 35. In the same way, 0 to 2 is the same as 0 to 34, etc.

With all this in mind, it will help to view the next two links and learn about the Cardioid.

Cardioid

Cardioid 2

In creating a Cardioid on a 36-degree circle, each step in the process creates just one instance of a particular number that is always of the formula n = n x 2. This pattern creates a mirrored spiral across the even numbers where the lines grow to node 18 and then shrink again as the numbers go higher.

But let us now consider the act of creating a line from every single node of the same number over and over. Take for example the number “9”. When the number “9” is fully mapped around the circle, a smaller circle appears. This circle of the number “9” is actually formed out of the half-way points of every single line.

But also notice that the number “9” corresponds to the number “27”. Before we move on to a method to differentiate such cases of corollary numbers, let’s take a look at what the number sequence of 3, 4, 8, 9, 14, 23, 25, 31, and 36 looks like when plotted in number circles within a 36-degree circle in pencil.

The pencil version looks pretty amazing, but presents a problem with higher numbers that might get confused with or even overlay lower numbers.

To see the issue clearer, let’s keep in mind that the goal is to create an actual 3D version of the circle using thread for the lines. When constructing a 3D version, the thread gets built from the base upwards. In other words, the thread goes on the loom in the reverse order of the numbers. What happens when higher numbers are covered over with thread as the lower numbers get added?

To see the problem clearer, let’s view several sequences in cross-sectional views.

Interestingly enough, from doing this, we see that the Pi Sequence is actually a great sequence to apply to the 36-degree circle. The Prime Sequence turns out to be a bad choice, at least with 36 degrees. The “odd” nature of Prime Sequence causes several numbers to coincide with their corollary, which would hide the higher number and/or artificially reinforce the lower numbers (e.g 5 & 31, 7 & 29, 13 & 23, 17 & 19).

This doesn’t happen with the Cardioid because the even numbers are only “counted” one instance whereas using our method, each number is “counted” 36 times to form the full circle.

An artistic method of differentiating the lower and higher corollaries is to map each number to a color. I chose to use the RBG color wheel because it is already mapped onto a circle. Plus, the values are precisely determined – even though I chose not to seek out thread colors of such exacting values.

By adding color values to the circle we can see quite easily the difference between a “yellow 6-valued circle” and a “magenta 30-valued circle”.

The end result is like looking through a rainbow of the digits of the Pi Sequence.

This next picture illustrates the rainbow color of the cross section which is formed.

Not wanting to stop there, I chose to apply the sequence to music.

The problem then becomes how to project a musical scale onto a 36-degree circle? It just so happens that 36 can be divided into 12 sets of 3 numbers. The Western musical scale also has 12 note values in an octave for the Chromatic Scale.

This process, unlike the previous two of mapping numbers and colors, cannot be reversed, though. Since numbers 1, 2, and 3, could all become the first note, there is no way to know the first note and from that extrapolate backwards whether that note is exactly 1, 2, or 3. But it is still a fun exercise to see how the Pi Sequence sounds when plotted onto the circle of notes.

For my version, I chose to start with the note A and build from A being the root note.

Note               Note Value      Original Number

A                      0                      1-3

A#/Bb              1                      4-6

B                      2                      7-9

C                      3                      10-12

C#/Db              4                      13-15

D                      5                      16-18

D#/Eb              6                      19-21

E                      7                      22-24

F                      8                      25-27

F#/Gb              9                      28-30

G                     10                    31-33

G#/Ab             11                    34-36

A (again 1 octave higher)

Our Pi Sequence (3, 4, 8, 9, 14, 23, 25, 31, 36) becomes:

A, A#, B, B, C#, E, F, G, G#

This creates 9 notes and I chose to write in the unorthodox time signature of 9/8 time. My method was to break down the notes into three groups of three notes each. I also wrote a return to Pi at the end that emphasized the numbers 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, and then 9 but using the 9-note sequence as a reprise. 314159 then plays over and over until fade out.

Plotted on a midi sequencer, it looks like this when played twice. I lowered the last 3 notes an octave.

Here is the final result.

The Sound of the Pi Sequence

Here are several pictures of the build.

We’re getting ready to start a BECMI/OSR campaign and so I decided to review the following BECMI/OSR products:

  • Rules Cyclopedia
  • Labyrinth Lords
  • Dark Dungeons
  • Blood & Treasure
  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Red & Blue Books with B/X Companion

What I discovered was that all roads point back to the Rules Cyclopedia. To me, it’s the best book that I use to look up all sorts of things. It’s not the be-all, end-all of sources, but it’s my go-to.

I have to admit that back in the 80’s when I was playing original BECMI/AD&D, our group jumped on the AD&D products immediately, and I never really played too much in the Mystara setting. It’s a shame because I now believe that Mystara is the best setting for playing the type of BECMI/OSR game we’re going to be playing.

Also, we’re going to be using Chapter 5 of the RC which means Weapon Proficiencies and General Skills will be used extensively. The Mystara section and Chapter 5 are two more reasons why the RC is the source of choice. The following document clarifies certain rules that will be used in the campaign:

Session Zero for Mystara Campaign Using Rules Cyclopedia and Labyrinth Lord

To me, the coolest part of what we’re going to be running is using a very specific set of character classes. My players can only choose from the following 16 classes. These classes come from James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games:

Archer

Assassin

Bandit

Barbarian

Berserker

Bounty Hunter

Explorer

Gladiator

Pirate

Rune Smith

Scoundrel

Swashbuckler

Sword Master

Undead Slayer

Wanderer

Wild Wizard

I took all of these classes and made a resource for the players to use.

Since we’ll be utilizing Weapon Proficiency and General Skills, I found a character sheet online that has an entire page dedicated to these mechanics. I’m not sure of its origin, but it’s perfect for our campaign.

D&D Character Record Sheet (Knotwork)

Finally, the one area of adventure that I just couldn’t find a system that I truly loved was the Hex Crawl. I’m sure there are numerous systems that are just fine, but I wanted to make travel and encounters have a simple system and use the groups’ skills.

I found the perfect set of encounter tables online. They were created by Jed McClure and he calls them Wilderness Hexplore. The system was designed for a map with absolutely no idea what lies beyond the home hex you start on. Since we’ll be in the Mystara campaign world, I modified his method, but I still think his tables are pretty robust.

Jed McClure_Wilderness_Hexplore_revised

My system utilizes his tables, but it requires the party of adventurers to be more involved in taking on certain roles as the group travels. Here is the revised system that utilizes skills from the General Skills list in the RC.

Overland Travel Rules for BECMI & OSR

One of the first games I ever created was a Gladiator game called The Colosseum. Don’t go buy it, though. It’s bad. I mean, the concept was good in many parts, but the combat was fairly dull. I’ve always intended to go back and re-develop the game, but it was always something on the back burner.

Lately I’ve been getting into the game Labyrinth Lord. It’s basically BECMI re-skinned and quite awesome!

I put together a campaign path that runs through a whole bunch of old core modules set in Mystara. The path (with options to change the path in branching directions looks like this:

  • B-2 Keep on the Borderlands (Lvl 1-3) or DDA1 Arena of Thyatis (Lvl 2-3)
  • X-1 Isle of Dread (Lvl 3-7) or DDA2 Legions of Thyatis (Lvl 3-4) if DDA1 was used and then run X-1.
  • X-13 Crown of Ancient Glory (Lvl 7-10) if players want to remain in Mystara, HWA1 Nightwail (Lvl 6-8) if players want to explore Hollow World.
  • HWA2 Nightrage (Lvl 7-9) if they chose HWA1
  • HWA3 Nightstorm (Lvl 8-10) if they chose HWA1 & 2
  • X-10 Red Arrow, Black Shield (Lvl 10-14) [all paths merge here]
  • CM-9 Legacy of Blood (Lvl 15-19)
  • CM-6 Where Chaos Reigns (Lvl 17-19)
  • M-5 Talons of Night (Lvl 20-25)
  • M-1 Into the Maelstrom (Lvl 25-30)
  • M-2 Vengeance of Alphaks (Lvl 28-32)

 

You’ll notice under the first bullet that DDA1 begins at 2nd Lvl. I began to think of how character could play first level as Gladiators and this led back to my old game.

Well, when I sat down to read over my old game, I remembered why I hated it and I decided to see what else was out there. One of the first hits I got was the game I’ll be using as the core system to run this game: Are You Not Entertained?!

The game is extremely easy to play and is perfect for running quick and fun Gladiator battles. Plus, it’s FREE!

I printed it in booklet form and then printed the stats for the types of Gladiators on card stock to make their sheets. There are eight types (including a bear and lion).

I found 2 packs of Permes paper minis that were Gladiator themed to make the Gladiator minis. Both packs together was about $4.

I chose to use blue and red dice to represent the colors of Attack and Defense like on the cards.

Hit Points can be tracked using 20-sided dice and since Magic uses nice, big ones for the same thing, I just used a bunch of those.

Finally, I happened to be browsing the hobby store and found the perfect arena by Paizo. It costs about $9.

We ran the game to test it out and two things I chose to adjust. One thing I found was that the battles tended to remain stationary. There’s no real incentive to move around once combat has started. So, in my supplement, I chose to add an incentive to move around more. The second thing I noticed was that combat damage can be hard to inflict. To adjust the option to make the battle move along even faster, I added some additional options to Advancements. I also wanted to be able to import this into a Savage Worlds Weird Wars Rome game, so I added four new types of Gladiator. You could consider this an advanced rules supplement:

Blood on the Gladius

You could very easily drop this into any RPG in various ways. It’s fun to just run it by itself and conduct numerous variations on tournaments and house rules.

Here is a handy Gladiator Tournament Brackets I created.

One final touch is your Gladiator name and background.

Here is a sample stable of Gladiators created from this and ready for fighting in an 8-man tournament. I used Thyatis instead of Rome, but you get the gist.

Enjoy!